DOWNINGTOWN, PA — Down a dead-end, residential lane in West Bradford Township, you’d be surprised to find a new farm among the single-family homes.
With Chester County’s continual development, it is more often the development of a farm that makes headlines. Bob and Amy Todd have worked to bring a new brand of agriculture to Chester County: Market Gardening.
Over the past decade, the Todd’s have worked to establish roots in Chester County. Bob and Amy have been operating Down to Earth Harvest in West Bradford Township for four seasons, after getting their start on leased land in Kennett Square five seasons prior.
“The biggest obstacle to new and beginning farmers is access to land, especially in Chester County,” Bob Todd explains. It has forced a lot of young farmers to create a model of agriculture that focuses on space-efficient crops with short maturity cycles. “The old-timers called it truck farming because they would sell out of the back of their truck. Today, ‘market gardening’ is the term.”
With many growers selling directly through farmer’s markets or CSA’s (produce subscriptions) and forgoing large acreage and expensive machinery, the economics have shifted. Reducing the land and capital needed to start and sustain a farm business has opened up the doors to a new generation of farmers.
From cultivating over two acres of produce in 2010, Down to Earth Harvest now produces the same value of crops on less than an acre. “Once we realized labor, not land, is our limiting factor we made an effort every season to do the same with less. Less land meant fewer weeds, less waste, and a better work-life balance,” says Todd.
The other thing missing is a tractor. After beginning his farming career using tractors and rototillers, Bob Todd has adopted a ‘no-till approach’ to his market garden.
Instead, Todd focuses on building soil life and feeding the system that feeds the plants using compost and additions of trace minerals and unrefined, natural inputs with a wide range of minerals, favorites include kelp, sea salt, gypsum and alfalfa meal.
“When you focus on a small plot you can create the soil you want. If you go in every season and rototill, you shatter the biology of the soil, burn up your carbon, and expose yourself to declining soil health. You’re really just losing ground.”
The result resembles more of an oversized garden with every bed producing throughout the growing season. Another benefit to not tilling the soil is the decline in weed pressure. “Weeds are a natural response to soil disturbance, less disturbance equals less weeds,” Todd notes.
Since moving to Downingtown in 2015, the couple has turned the enterprise into a family affair, adding three young daughters. “Back before kids all I wanted to do was farm, so if I worked all the daylight hours that was fine.”
After the addition of the third child, Bob and Amy decided to pivot away from farmers markets and streamline their enterprise. The couple adopted an “online farm-stand” platform that has been well received with existing members and garnered them a few more.
“Not all produce is created equal and people can taste that,” Todd quips. “We really want people to get excited about their vegetables and giving them an authentic product does that.”
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