Splendid Earth Farm is a small-scale operation that is located right off Main Street in Berlin, Maryland. It only occupies about a quarter of an acre in Jeanne Vander Clute’s backyard, as well as a half an acre down the road. Though modest in size, this farm is built on a strong foundation of sustainability and eco-centric tactics. Jeanne started her backyard farm from the ground up- literally.
Soil is composed of microorganisms, which are especially abundant in the area surrounding plant roots. Microorganisms are what make soil “living”. They can provide nitrogen, suppress disease, remove harmful toxins, and provide many other benefits for plant growth. Jeanne began the transformation of her farm by using entirely no-till methods to convert the grass into raised beds. Completely turning the soil (e.g. tilling) disrupts the crucial soil ecology. She explained, “I used a broadfork to get the beds ready, and to aerate the soil.” To a farming novice, the broadfork device may be unfamiliar, however, it is vital in small-scale farming. “The principal [of the broadfork] is to not disturb the microorganisms in the soil too much, but to aerate it enough to let the vegetable roots get down there.” The broadfork is a powerful tool that efficiently loosens soil without flipping it upside down, which is vital in maintaining soil health and structure.
After bed preparation comes planting. Initially, Jeanne decided what to grow on her farm based on what she wanted to eat herself. “I really just tried a wide variety because I wanted to see the first year what I liked growing, so I did a mix of stuff that are longer season, like onions, and then some things that are much shorter, like arugula and lettuce because they come into maturity a lot quicker. Now, I love planting heirlooms and really any unique plants that do well in our climate.”
“Crop planning is so hard… you’re turning beds over, you’re harvesting, and then you are going to plant again. Timing and planning are essential so you have enough plants to fill your garden beds.” A crop plan is considered by some to be the most important decision-making tool available to farmers. It is a farmer’s guide to ensure everything stays on track. Developing an effective crop plan involves making decisions to fit your specific needs. Crop planning helps farmers avoid planting the wrong varieties in the wrong area and helps average a higher yield. When thinking of her own crop plan, Jeanne considers some advice she once received, “Someone once said to me, ‘If you plant something everyday, you’ll have something to harvest everyday.” This idea of the higher frequency with which you plant, the more yield you will have may seem simple enough. However, the time and effort required of this sentiment must be considered.
Being a successful farmer requires sheer time and dedication, no matter the size. In season, Jeanne works on her farm seven days a week, including running a CSA (community supported agriculture) vegetable pick up, and selling at the Berlin Farmer’s Market. She makes this commitment because she cares about her community. “I started out because I wanted to provide healthy food for the community, and it seemed like one of the most fulfilling things I could do with my life. I love to cook and eat and be outside.”
The biggest thing Jeanne can ask from the community is that they support local farmers. “You can choose to buy from a large-scale grocery store, or you can choose to buy from someone who cares about the food they are growing and cares about their community. Support all local farmers, especially ones who care about the environment and the health of the food you are eating.” “I want to continue educating myself, because I see education as part of my role as a farmer. I like to tell people about what I am doing so they know where their food comes from and what they are feeding to their kids is healthy. I like providing food for people, but I get even more excited when people want to grow their own food in their own backyard. I know not everybody has the time or space to grow, but I genuinely think it is the most important thing you can do for yourself and the environment.”
Splendid Earth Farm products can be found in the summer at the Berlin Farmers Market (May – September) on Sundays from 9:00am to 1:00pm, and Jeanne also offers a yearly CSA opportunity. If you have any questions for Jeanne, feel free to contact her via Instagram at @splendidearthfarm or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.