The Straw Hat Urban Farm Project
by Guest blogger: John Brubaker
of the Straw Hat Urban Farm
Listen to his podcast HERE
The question…..How does one arrive at ‘beyond organic’, Urban farming/market gardening that is sustainable financially, and regenerative toward nature? This is my quest. My farm is Straw Hat Urban Farm LLC. Sandy, Utah. We have an acre lot that includes our home, barn, sheds, dogs, cat, and two horses. My spouse and partner Kate, is incredibly supportive in what I’m trying to accomplish, even when sometimes, I’m not sure what the blueprint will look like in five years. I also have two grown daughters that support what I’m doing and enjoy the produce!
The ‘project’ which more or less started four years ago is starting to come into focus; scalable urban farming designed to minimize external inputs, be free from pesticide use of any kind including ‘Organic pesticides’, and free from synthetic fertilizer. It took thirty years growing turf and trees, researching methods and techniques of micro-farming, three years of boot strapping the farm infrastructure, ramping up production, and driving up and down the street giving produce to the neighbors. 2018 marked the first year my produce was taken to the Farmer’s market. The farmer’s market I chose is held at Wheeler Farm County Park and fit right into the farm/life scheduling priorities of my farm.
Success at the market validated one of the key components of the Urban Farm project, financial sustainability: if it can’t pay for itself, it’s not going to work. While I’m only equipped with a single year of sales data, financial viability seems not only possible, but obvious, if approached properly: Keep expenses down, grow quality produce. Demand for fresh local produce and “knowing your farmer” are ideas that are accelerating and I believe become more in demand every time there is another salmonella or e-coli outbreak.
Composting and soil health are the fundamental blocks upon which the entire farm is built. Horse manure is a daily chore, grass clippings are collected, crop residue, leaves, cardboard, straw, and water are all gathered, for building basically lasagna style compost. Once built, the lasagna is mixed and moved into one of two 6 X 4 X 4 compost bins, a thermometer is added for temperature monitoring and the mixture is covered. When the temp reaches 140-160 F, I turn the compost, check the moisture, and recover the pile. This turning process will be accomplished three to five times until temperatures drop off. Once cooled, the compost is finished for 3 months or more, at this point I consider the compost ready for use and will spread 1-2 inches over the raised beds in spring or between rotations. I use No-till techniques on the farm. Meaning, no broad forks, tilthers, tillers, or any tool that disturbs more than the top ½ inch of new compost is used on the farm; I really let nature do its amazing thing! Fungal dominated soil is the goal. The seedbed is prepared by lightly raking the new compost to be ‘level-ish’ making this the only soil disturbance. I rely primarily on transplants, so an airport runway type seed bed isn’t necessary and if I’m direct seeding, a little prescreening of the new compost goes a long way. Earthworms, insects, and other soil organisms are relied upon for aeration and encouraged through habitat advancement. Of course, when harvesting root crops soil disturbance is unavoidable, nonetheless every effort is made to minimize any sub-surface bother.
In 2019 as a result of the market success and an increase in available time, production is going to be increased by about 20%. In my context, this type of development/expansion works. This increase will commit my time to around 25-30 total hours per week. This amount of time will result in me not being overwhelmed by the shear amount of effort required. Nor bored and impatient because, there’s plenty to do! This year composting capacity needs to be increased, more row covers installed, new beds developed, my small greenhouse always seems in need of something and more perennials are being added to the farm. Figs will be a new addition, as well as expanding the strawberry and raspberry plantings. For annual vegetable crops, priority is placed on under 60 days to maturity, lettuce, spinach, radish, etc., however, potatoes, melons, and winter squash are all part of the rotation. These are family favorites and very popular at the market!!
That’s an overview at what my farm is about, many moving parts and many tasks to complete. Should you one day find yourself looking for life rewards working with your mind and hands together, start a garden or micro farm. Your journey will take you to places you can’t imagine. Nature is astonishing! Eating your first fresh tomato, carrot, or potato, grown with your brains and brawn can be life changing. Yes, it can sound a bit absurd, right up until the time you try it, then, well the rewards are too numerous to count. Start slow, start small, and take the time to develop your science skill set, read any number of the authors out there producing fantastic content. Jeff Lowenfels, Eliot Coleman, and Charles Dowding are among my personal favorites. Greg’s Podcast, The Urban Farm can’t be beat. YouTube search Urban Farming. I highly recommend listening to Ron Finley on Ted talks as a motivating start point. Inspiration for new age farmers/gardeners is in every direction. Finally, you can email, Instagram, or message me, I enjoy talking about micro farming with anyone interested.
About this author:
John has been working on golf courses for over 35 since the age of 16. He planted thousands of trees and just for fun, would typically have an organic vegetable garden on the golf course for the enjoyment of customers and staff. Along the way he earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Utah State University in Horticulture.
In 2013 his wife and daughters developed digestive issues. Because of this he started growing his own vegetables, built a compost pile, implemented no dig methods, planted for pollinators, introduced beneficial predator insects, and so on.
Soon he was giving vegetables to his neighbors and he had become an urban farmer. In 2018 he named his micro farm ‘Straw Hat’, rented a booth at a Farmers Market and started selling organic produce. The success was beyond his expectations, incredibly rewarding and now he is planning on retiring from the golf course and going into urban farming full time.
How to reach John:
Facebook: Straw Hat Urban Farm Project
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A very enjoyable article. I’m completly in the same situation. We are on the property for 8 months now and are working on a permaculture orchard and and vegtable farm mixed in with horses. We have room for 6 of them. So that means alot of manure. I’m planning on using the compost not only for the orchard but also for the meadows. Did you try this before and what are you results? Have a nice day and keep on going!
Hi Simon, I haven’t used compost on a meadow. I limit it to vegetables and trees. I would say, it would probably do really well. Anything that moves toward closing the natural loop is going to work. Joel Salatin and Gabe Brown are using no-till organic methods with animals at the forefront of those operations. I’m not sure if they compost and apply to pastures but it would certainly be worth exploring!! Geoff Lawton has some cool stuff as well. Thanks…You keep going as well, and drop me an email anytime. I would love to compare notes.