How many young farmers met their financial goals their first year in farming? Bob Payne and Camille Abdel-Nabi started their 3-acre farm with solid training and experience in organic growing, lots of energy and a thorough business plan. Bob has an agricultural degree from University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences or Universität für Bodenkultur Wien (BOKU) in Vienna, Austria and worked as a farmhand at Greenview Farm in Wakefield, RI. Camille met Bob while she was apprenticing at the farm. Both praised the hands-on organic production, marketing and sales training they received from Greenview Farm’s owners, Craig and Emily Totten. They share these invaluable lessons by mentoring a farm apprentice at Little River Farm.
Founded in 2013, Littler River Farm is a 3-acre vegetable farm using organic and sustainable practices to grow a wide variety of greens, vegetables and herbs. Bob and Camille’s favorites are arugula, mesclun greens, root vegetables, heirloom tomatoes and peppers. Little River Farm sells through a 40-member CSA, two farmers markets and a spring Market Garden Festival. The farm also sells wholesale to restaurants and food cooperatives.
Intensive planting and season extension tools allow the couple to harvest and sell mesclun greens and vegetables throughout the winter. The couple also offers customers early and late tomatoes. They grow a number of varieties suited to high tunnel growing. Bob and Camille start their seedlings in early spring in their custom- built, bentwood greenhouse made with wood from Bob’s family’s land. Camille uses a Berry Seeder Company vacuum seeder to place seeds in 200-count trays. She starts 30 trays of mesclun greens and spinach weekly to ensure a steady supply for their customers.
At Little River Farm, row covers protect spring and fall field transplants from cool weather and insect pests. Squash and other cucurbit seedlings receive extra protection with kaolin clay sprays (Surround WP) at transplant time. Repeat sprays after rains are unnecessary because row covers keep out most insects. Camille and Bob cycle cover crops between most cash crops. Buckwheat and white clover build soil fertility and organic matter while supporting native pollinators.
Bob urged farmers not to plant seeds or seedlings before setting up their high tunnel. Last spring, these young farmers waited patiently for a decision on their high tunnel grant application. The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) could not offer high tunnel funding without the final Farm Bill. In the end, Bob and Camille put in an order for a high tunnel and planted their oversized tomatoes outside, without a grant decision. Fortunately, the weather cooperated and the nights stayed mild. Bob, Camille and many of their friends painstakingly assembled the high tunnel over the young tomato plants in a week. Bob and Camille agreed, high tunnels should be ready before planting.
The couple selected a 96’ by 30’ Rimol Rolling Thunder movable high tunnel. Lower and lean trellising support two successive tomato crops in the high tunnel. In the fall, Bob and Camille will plant spinach on the next plot. When the tomatoes are finished, they will roll the tunnel over the spinach for winter harvest and sale.
About half the farm has overhead sprinklers and the reminder has drip tape irrigation. Leafy greens, carrots, beets, etc. get overhead irrigation. Peppers, tomatoes, onions, winter squash, cucumbers, etc. get drip irrigation. Bob said, “The drip tape wiggles all over with changing temperatures, but it straightens out as soon as we turn on the water.”
When selecting farmland, Bob urged farmers to consider delivery truck access. The farm’s quarter-mile long dirt road is narrow and deeply rutted. Truck drivers refused to come down the farm road so they unloaded fertilizer, compost and greenhouse supplies at the roadside. Bob built a pallet-sized sled of spare lumber and a pair of old skis. He dragged in all the supplies over the snow-covered access road. Bob smiled when he said there was at least one small benefit to all that snow last winter.
The couple learned of this available farmland through a friend’s brother. They secured a five-year lease with options to renew after three years and the potential to grow on additional acres.
Learn more about Little River Farm at littleriverfarm.com .