This month we talked to Matthew Kurek of Golden Earthworm Organic Farm in Jamesport, New York.
Q: Can you give us an idea of what your farm is?
A: The Golden Earthworm Organic Farm is a certified organic vegetable farm nestled on 50 acres of pristine farmland protected by a land preservation program on the North Fork of Long Island. I started the Golden Earthworm in 1996 after leaving New York City, where I was working as a natural foods chef. Today, I run the farm with long-time friend and fellow farmer, James Russo, and my wife, Maggie Wood. Since none of us come from a farming family and land prices are at a premium here on the island, all of our land is rented, and the development rights have been sold.
Q: How old were you when you knew that you wanted to be a farmer?
A: I think I probably always knew I wanted to farm, but it was a long and winding road. I started out studying the oboe in music school, and then left for a career in the kitchen when I attended the Natural Gourmet Cookery School in Manhattan. I was a chef in the city for many years with a small garden behind my apartment in Brooklyn, and it was a natural progression for me to decide to farm after that. I used to spend hours at the farmers’ market in Union Square talking to farmers about produce. I was fascinated by the growing process! I think that my obsession with vegetables eventually made me leave the kitchen for the field. I wanted to grow beautiful vegetables – it was all I could think about for years…
Q: How did you start farming?
A: I moved back to Long Island, where I grew up, and rented a small piece of land. I did a lot of reading, and made lots of mistakes, but I’m pretty much self-taught. Looking back, I think I did the right thing. I’m a quick learner, and since I was forced to figure everything out on my own, I had to come up with creative solutions. I still take a creative approach to farming now-years later.
Q: What does a farmer need to know that other people might not think of? How do you learn those things?
A: Farmers need to know all sorts of things! Math, problem solving techniques, physics, chemistry, soil and plant biology, communication skills, marketing, sales, mechanics, writing, labor management, organizational skills and more! I can tell you first hand that if you’re not a farmer, you can’t possibly imagine what it’s really like! It’s more complex than anyone could ever imagine, but also more incredible. The most difficult aspects are dealing with the business end of things. There’s nothing worse than spending a perfectly beautiful day inside doing paperwork!
Q: Does your family help out on the farm?
A: I am a first generation farmer, and so is my farming and business partner, James Russo. My wife, Maggie Wood, who has her own business as a green design consultant, oversees our CSA program and designs our web-site and marketing materials. While we’re not all related, we certainly feel like family, and we all do our part!
Q: Describe an average day on your farm?
A: We generally get started by 6 a.m. We live adjacent to the farm, so it’s a nice commute! First we get the workers set up either with harvesting or field work. Then we start doing field preparation, planting, cultivating, and generally keeping an eye on the day’s events. During periods when there hasn’t been sufficient rainfall we spend at least half the day setting up and running irrigation. Being such a diverse farm often pulls us in many different directions throughout the day, requiring us to take care of whatever is most important at any given time.
Q: How do you involve your urban customers with what happens on your farm?
A: We write a weekly newsletter with news from the farm, and invite all of our CSA members out to the farm for tours and farm events several times during the season. It’s important for them to meet the people who grow their food, and important for us to know whose table it’s ending up on.
Q: Are you concerned about affordability for your customers?
A: We work with organizations like Just Food and United Way to make our produce more affordable for our customers. We also subsidize several CSA shares ourselves to support our CSA program in under-served communities.
Q: What is the best thing about farming?
A: My favorite thing about farming is being outside, and knowing that at the end of each day, families all over Long Island and Queens are sitting down to dinner with my produce on their table. Nothing beats that!
Q: How can people buy food from you or that you have grown or raised?
A: They can join our CSA program, visit one of our farmers’ markets on the weekends, or visit our organic farm shop at the farm in Jamesport. We have a beautiful website with all the information about our CSA program and markets at http://www.goldenearthworm.com