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The Year in Review: Reflections from a First-Year Farmer

We may be a little tardy to the party, but this New Year, we're celebrating an anniversary! September marked our first full year as proud owners and operators of Fifth Acre Farms. As you can probably imagine, I have a lot of thoughts on leaving a career in my 30s to start a no-till farm from scratch. Yet, when I reflect on what made our first year worth sharing, it's the growth, the challenges and the community that have defined our journey. Year one wasn't just about cultivating crops; it was about fostering a shared commitment to sustainability and exploring the endless possibilities that unfold when passionate people come together.


Establishing The Field

On a cold, grey day in February, a dump truck pulled into the gravel driveway near our field and dumped fourteen yards of half-frozen soil. For weeks, Tyler and I loaded our wheelbarrow by the shovel full, moving and spreading the soil that would soon become twenty-nine rows of beautiful flowers and heirloom vegetables. The uncertainty that comes with any new adventure was compounded by my understanding that nature was ultimately in control. I had read the books and watched the videos but I knew that even the most experienced farmers are at the mercy of the ecosystems in which they farm. This was a fact that proved to be true several times in our first season.



As spring arrived, a healthy dose of fear clung to us, but we embraced it. We solved irrigation challenges, constructed a walk-in cooler in our home, and nurtured over a thousand seedlings in our basement. At some point, halfway through our season, I realized that the nerves I felt back in February had turned into something entirely new. We were having fun! I watched in amazement as ladybugs arrived to address aphid issues, marigolds welcomed bees and orb weavers, and white-bellied hawks patrolled from above. I jotted down observations in journals, creating a silent dialogue with the field and offering insights for future seasons. We’ll continue to collect these lessons as we go and are looking forward to improving upon what we built our first year.


 

Hands-On Happiness

A significant highlight of my year was our series of eight workshops that ran from summer through Christmas. I love my job most when I’m nestled in a Metroparks pavilion with a dozen buckets of field-fresh flowers and a group of creative folks looking to connect with nature. From bouquet arranging to holiday garland, these workshops proved that we can commit to plastic-free crafting in a way that’s both beautiful and beneficial. Our first season saw workshop partnerships with local businesses like the Ørchard on Catawba and Vermilion Valley Vineyards. These local partnerships were invaluable to us as a new farm. And we heard you loud and clear – a glass of wine pairs well with a wreath workshop! As we step into the upcoming season, we're excited about expanding these partnerships, exploring new workshop ideas, and sharing the beauty of our farm with an even wider audience.




 

Farming In A Changing Climate

Our region experienced unprecedented weather challenges in our first season. Smoke from the Canadian wildfires cast an unexpected shadow on our crops and a historically dry spring posed a set of challenges of its own. The interplay of drought and smoke created a peculiar spring in our field, making it challenging to discern human errors from environmental obstacles. Luckily, by mid-summer, rainfall totals began to normalize just as the smoke cleared.


As our field began to flourish, we were caught completely off guard by a massive, August storm that brought over six inches of rain and a nearby tornado. Our work-station canopy was plucked from its stakes and left mangled in the blackberry patch near our field. Improper seed storage meant losing hundreds of dollars in seeds to rainwater and we sat helpless as dozens of tomatoes burst wide open from the excess water. But tiny miracles abound. Not a single plant broke in the high winds. Rows of sunflowers and peppers stood unfazed, a welcomed reminder of nature’s resiliency. Our no-till field, with its living pathways and diversly planted rows, absorbed the excess rainwater like a sponge. We experience almost no standing water, an amazing feat considering rainfall totals. The strange weather events of our first season only reinforced our commitment to regenerative farming practices in the face of a changing climate.  




 

Finding Community

In our first season, we were fortunate to meet so many of you that share in our commitment to soil conservation and combating climate change. At the Summer Market in Lorain, you filled our booth with excitement as you traveled from near and far, just to support our tiny, regenerative farm. At workshops, you learned sustainable skills while supporting local agriculture. You filled our inboxes with questions and curiosity and allowed us to share what we know about land stewardship. I hold these conversations near to my heart and feel connected in our shared goals.


In the spirit of giving back, we directed over 100 lbs of our fresh produce to the local community free fridge. And while this was a commendable start, we acknowledge the potential for further impact and are actively restructuring our food program to contribute even more. There’s a learning curve, in predicting crop yield, and it’s proven to be best learned on the job. With one full season behind us, we’re feeling more confident than ever in our ability to help stock the community fridge at the South Branch Elyria Library.




Looking Ahead

As we stand on the cusp of our second season, our daydreams include U-pick flower fields and chef-driven farm dinners along the main path of our field. These grand aspirations keep us focused, never allowing us to lose sight of the broader goals of Fifth Acre. But for now, our modest leased field has proven to be capable of achieving so much. We're excited to continue our retail partnership with Quarry Hill Orchards, offering field-fresh bouquets in their market barn. We hope to add one or two more retail locations in the coming season!


New offerings for the 2024 season include a rental build-your-own-bouquet bar for showers, parties, or girl's nights – the perfect way to share in the joy of our farm. More information, including a booking calendar for the 2024/25 wedding seasons, will be available on our website in the coming weeks. We've added a weekly flower subscription to our upcoming season - 6 weeks of summer bouquets, wrapped and ready for pickup in Elyria. We're also in the process of applying to become regular participants in a weekly farmer’s market. If you have a favorite local coffee shop, winery, or farmer’s market where you’d like to see Fifth Acre market bouquets – let us know! We're always on the lookout for opportunities to expand our reach.





Early January marks the conclusion of our two-week break from the farm. This week, we embark on planning our 2024 crop schedule, a comprehensive plan that keeps our seed starting and weekly planting on track. There are seeds to buy and goals to outline. Farming marches to the never-ending drumbeat of time, and with the winter days already beginning to lengthen, it won't be long until our hands are working the soil again. Our first season blessed us with plenty of joys and lessons, and I'm immensely proud of what we started together. We feel a profound gratitude for the support and connection we’ve experienced in our first year. We extend an invitation to you, our community, to join us in this ongoing journey. Your feedback, suggestions and shared moments fuel us as we anticipate another season of regenerative farming.


Happy New Year!

-Rachel


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