My husband Sean and I have been getting our hands dirty for most of our lives. Sean grew up in New Jersey tending to his very own garden plot as a young child and continued to do so into his teenage years. As an adult, he trained to be a studio potter with a focus on creating functional pieces such as pitchers, tea pots, serving bowls, and mugs thus uniting his love of cooking and working with his hands in clay. During his studies at Juniata College, he began working part-time at Tuscarora Organic Growers Cooperative and New Morning Farm in Hustontown, Pennsylvania. At that time, he also had his own extensive back yard vegetable garden. Then as life sometimes goes, he met a gal (me!)—and before long he was doing more vegetable growing and less pottery.
I grew up in Bethel, Pennsylvania and spent a great deal of my childhood picking up sticks around the house and pulling weeds alongside my siblings in our family garden. My appreciation of the great outdoors coupled with my yearning to travel lead me to volunteering with the Americorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), studying International Sustainable Development, and serving as a Food Security and Agricultural volunteer for the Peace Corps in Nicaragua. After my service, I applied for and was accepted to an apprenticeship position at New Morning Farm that was listed in a Peace Corps job bulletin. Then as life sometimes goes, I met a guy (Sean!)—and before long I was doing more vegetable growing and less international development.
Our love for farming and each other blossomed at New Morning Farm (also known in some farmer circles as “la finca de amor” or “the farm of love”). We were inspired greatly by the owners Jim and Moie Crawford, and after four full-time seasons we decided to set out to experience and co-manage a much smaller vegetable farm operation, Gravity Hill Farm in Titusville, New Jersey. It was a great learning opportunity for us to manage and produce on four acres compared to the previous forty, and during our time there we produced our most prize-winning crop—our daughter, Ginger Mae.
Less than three weeks after Ginger was born, we moved to Washington, Virginia where Sean had been sought out to fill the Farm Manager position at The Farm at Sunnyside. I assumed the role as a consultant to the farm while cultivating and nurturing Ginger at home. The farm’s fifteen acres in production was a scale that really appealed to us and was a natural fit to our own personal views of sustainability. Our experience over those three years further strengthened our business and production abilities and pushed us to take the final leap of faith and start our own farm. But, before leaving Virginia and knowing where we were going, Sean and I thought that after over eight years together it was about time we “tie the knot.” We were married with Ginger by our side on the same day as my parent’s 49th wedding anniversary—November 7th, 2014.
We knew we wanted to move back closer to both of our parents and extended family, so we focused on looking at various farm properties for sale throughout eastern Pennsylvania. While a couple of farms seemed like possibilities, when all was said and done, none of them felt like “the one.” It was not until my parents suggested that we should farm the 18 acre plot across the street from their home (where we had had our family garden) that I felt a tug on my heartstrings. Coincidentally, the house next door to my parents was for sale. It was previously the home of my childhood best friend and I had spent almost as much time in this house growing up as I had my own home. We took this as a sign.
This unique situation was not at all what we thought we were looking for. There was absolutely no farming infrastructure and little equipment—which meant we were starting from scratch—a huge undertaking at this point in our lives and farming career. We would have to drill a well and say a prayer that we hit water, install a pump, build a high tunnel and a propagation greenhouse, construct sheds and remodel a garage for produce packing and storage, rehabilitate the decent soil back into a living being, and reestablish native meadows to encourage the endless birds and pollinators to return from my childhood memories. And while the idea of a patchwork farm and home was not what we thought we were looking for, we realized it was everything that we hoped it could be—and it felt right, more than right—it felt like “the one.”
There are many idiomatic phrases in our language that reflect “to come full circle” and these sentiments echo in my head each and every day as I ponder how marvelous and serendipitous our farm’s “birth” came to be. After over nine years of apprenticing and managing three various scaled organic vegetable and fruit farms, I have literally come full circle and back to my home. Now, together with my husband and our daughter, I am once again reaching my hands into the very soil where I planted my first seeds as a young child alongside my own parents. It is profoundly emotional and humbling to acknowledge that often what we most desire, has been right in front of us all along. It just took some time and life experience for us to be able to see it—but more importantly—to be able to feel it.
We appreciate your taking the time to learn more about us and hope that you will consider joining our Farm Stand CSA, visiting us at one of our farm stands, or supporting another local family farm or market that may be closer to you.
~ Jennifer Schmehl & Sean McDermott & Ginger Schmehl-McDermott