Year-round on the Bainum Foundation Farm, Production Manager Tonya Taylor and Operations Manager Kasey Clark lead a small team in managing a 263-acre property in Middleburg, Virginia, and cultivating produce and flowers on five acres.* In 2018 alone, Tonya, Kasey and two seasonal staff members produced 38,000 pounds of more than 100 varieties of vegetables, fruits and herbs during the late-May to early-November harvest season. While the work never completely pauses, a slightly slower pace sets in when the temperatures drop and the winter months roll around. What exactly are they up to during the “off season”?
For the Farm team, the off season takes place from Thanksgiving through the end of February. During this time, Tonya and Kasey used cover crops like clover and rye to improve soil quality, add organic matter and protect the soil from winter erosion. Kasey leads maintenance on the property, infrastructure, vehicles and equipment to keep them in good condition throughout the winter, while Tonya develops the crop plan for the next growing season based the crop performance from the previous season as well as input from the Farm’s partners (i.e., organizations that distribute produce from the Farm to farmers markets and early childhood centers across the District of Columbia’s Wards 7 and 8 and other underserved neighborhoods). These partners share with Tonya the previous year’s demand for each item, customer feedback and requests, their projected needs for the upcoming season and what they are able to source locally from other partners — all to help the Farm enhance its impact in the community.
This winter, Kasey built a few Comfort hives he plans to use during the spring and summer to boost the Farm’s bee population. These hives are small relative to normal hives, and they are used for the purpose of queen-rearing and hive-splitting — two activities Kasey believes will help strengthen and multiply the pollinators and maximize their benefit to both the Farm’s crops/flowers and the broader local ecosystem. Despite immense pest pressure on the Farm’s bee colonies over the past couple years, Kasey’s dedicated beekeeping has helped the majority of the hives survive this winter, strong and ready for the warmer months ahead.
In addition to this work, Kasey — who is completing his certification as a Virginia Master Naturalist — began planning a nature trail for the wooded and meadowed areas of the Farm’s property. This trail will support the Farm’s early-stage education programming, which will this year include experiential educational opportunities for several adult and youth groups from the District and the greater Middleburg community. The programming will focus on regenerative agriculture, food systems, healthy food and environmental stewardship.
On top of all they accomplished this winter, Tonya and Kasey were also able to get away and have an exciting adventure of their own. The couple spent 27 days in Malawi, Africa, where they met while serving in the Peace Corps together. This was Tonya and Kasey’s third time returning to the country, and they spent their trip “bike-packing” — covering more than 1,000 kilometers — and visiting the villages they had lived in during their Peace Corps days. Kasey also met with small local beekeeping organizations to share knowledge and help them enhance their practices.
With spring, the growing season has now “sprung” and will once again require creativity and diligence from the team, who do most of the planting and harvesting work by hand, but will this year have more hands to help. Tonya and Kasey will once again have support from seasonal staff, but they also will gain a new production team member, Katie Miller, who will be serving as a Production Associate for the full duration of the year.
So much is already under way onsite. Thankfully, Tonya and Kasey spent the winter months preparing, strategizing, gearing up for — and taking a moment to breathe before — the time-intensive but highly rewarding work ahead in 2019.
Stay tuned for more updates from the fascinating Farm team, and learn more about the team’s leaders in our previous blog post:
* The Bainum Foundation Farm, established in 2015, is a separate entity owned by the Foundation and part of our overall Food Security Initiative.