The next stop on our tour of farms that use earth-friendly growing techniques is Soluna Garden Farm in Winchester, MA. Seth was unable to make this visit, but I met with Amy Hirschfeld, one of the farm owners, to see how they grow their products.
Clocking in at 1.5 acres, Soluna is a small farm like Stearns that doesn’t pursue organic certification, although they use organic practices. The folks at Soluna grow herbs and flowers for CSA and farmers markets. They also custom mix numerous dried spice and tea blends, which they sell at their store in downtown Winchester, their stall in Boston Public Market, and at farmers markets across Eastern Massachusetss.
I was excited to head to Soluna because I love herbs. I’ve never been to an herb-only farm before, so I didn’t know what to expect. Soluna didn’t disappoint! The farm is tucked behind a row of private houses on a busy street in Winchester, and when you head down the driveway of an ordinary house, you’re greeted by a greenhouse, a high deer fence, and an expanse of tidy flower and herb beds beyond.
Soluna has been in business since 2009, although the land has been worked since the 1970s when Amy’s father purchased the plot to create an organically-minded hobby farm. After he passed away, Amy continued to grow at the farm and eventually decided to start Soluna with a CSA for herb and flower lovers.
Soluna uses a permanent bed system across the majority of their land. This means that at the end of the season they don’t till the beds into the ground like a typical vegetable farm, but rather delineate where crops grow with permanent raised beds. This has the downside of preventing the farmers from using mechanical cultivation like tractors to suppress weeds. On the upside, the raised beds warm more quickly than fields in the spring, which means you can get plants in the ground sooner. They also have the benefit of preserving soil structure, provided you don’t completely turn the soil over when planting. Soil structure is important! Soil has different strata, and each layer hosts a level of microbial and animal life, all of which make nutrients more readily available to plants.
That’s not to say Soluna doesn’t use standard measures tillage and like black plastic weed suppression. They do! They just use these practices judiciously, in plots where they grow annuals. Amy told me that Soluna invested in reusable landscape fabric this year and, combined with drip tape for irrigation, this saved them a ton of weeding and gave them some very happy plants.
While many of the herbs at Soluna are perennials, some of the plants don’t enjoy a New England winter. Can you blame them? This is where Soluna’s farmers strike me as particularly brilliant. Each winter, they dig up certain whole plants like rosemary, or the root corms of other herbs and flowers, and store them in the greenhouse or cellar where they stay dormant until they’re ready to be planted again. This isn’t something that a large farm can attempt unless they have a massive amount of storage space and a lot of hands on deck. But for a garden farm, it seems to work. As a bonus, the plants that grow each Spring are already used to the soil and pests at Soluna, which makes for stronger crops all around.
I wish I had a month to spend working with Amy and the plants. We talked about all sorts of neat things like using compost as an energy source (something that they’re hoping to implement this winter), and developing a line of herbal liqueurs to supply some of Boston’s bars. There was the conversation about seasonal herb salt or tea blends, and inspiring a taste for adventure in customers. And of course, the herbs themselves, the walking and touching and smelling and tasting. My friends, this is earth friendly agriculture at its best. I’m thrilled to have taken a tour of Soluna Garden Farm. Thank you again Amy!