How These Farmer Janes Are Making Organics Profitable

Farm-to-table gets a serious dose of girl power.

February 12, 2016
Stacy Givens
Audra Mulkern

All across America, women are returning to the land and reviving age-old traditions of farming, which, as a business, is often fraught with struggles to turn a profit. But these four superwomen have combined their individual passions for food, organic farming, and feeding local communities into smart business models. And by selling directly to consumers and restaurants, they’ve cut the middlemen, turning a higher profit and bolstering their local economies. Meet the women who are bucking the status quo. 

Related: These Cities Are Choosing Plants Over Pavement

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Sideyard Farm // Portland, Oregon

Stacey Givens (above, center) first farmed when she landed in the kitchen at Portland, Oregon’s Rocket (now known as Noble Rot), the city’s first restaurant with a rooftop farm. Although she’d cooked her way through many Portland kitchens, it was seed-to-plate cooking and the experience of growing her own food that really heightened her culinary craft, she says. Inspired by her new urban farming experience and her immigrant mother, who turned the family’s Los Agneles backyard into a large garden with seeds she brought from Greece, Givens decided that she, too, wanted grow and cook for her family and neighbors. Today she leases several empty side yards and lots in Portland’s Cully neighborhood for her urban Sideyard Farm and Kitchen. There, she and her all-female crew grow vegetables, fruit, and herbs. Givens hosts community dinners and brunches out of the onsite kitchen, as well as a Nomadic Supper Club and Catering Company that feature smoked cilantro branches, pickled seeds, and herb stem-infused oils and vinegars. Givens also has a thriving produce delivery service for specialty items like micro-radishes that arrive within hours of harvest. And once a week, Givens hosts a pop-up stand on the farm with discounted produce just for her neighbors.

Related: The Best Farm Stands In The U.S.

Glendale Shepherd // Whidbey Island, Washington

Lynn Swanson
Audra Mulkern

Lynn Swanson’s sheep are raised on open pasture and non-GMO feed, and the tasty results are in the cheese. Three to five times a week, you’ll find her tucked away in her cheesemaking room, crafting award-winning sheep milk cheeses and yogurts. Farmers’ market shoppers snap up her hand-dipped ricotta, aged feta, and her flagship variety, Island Brebis, a tomme-style cheese aged for 6 to 12 months. “I love to make food that people are crazy about!” says Swanson. Food and Wine recently called Swanson’s sweet and nutty Island Brebis “one of the best artisanal cheeses in the country,” and it won the Good Food award in 2014. It’s the star ingredient on cheese plates at restaurants like Seattle’s Bar Sajor, bar ferd’nand, and Salare. You can also find it for purchase at Seattle-area farmers’ markets and Kurt’s Farm Shop.  

Eagle Street Rooftop Farm // Brooklyn, New York

Annie Novak
Audra Mulkern

 

Most farmers don’t begin their day ascending several flights of stairs to reach their fields, but for Annie Novak, it’s a worthwhile climb. Stories above Brooklyn’s bustling streets, Novak’s 6,000 square feet of organic vegetables, bees, and chickens get plenty of sun and fresh air. Novak’s produce is a favorite with Brooklyn residents, who can buy direct from the rooftop farm, as well as with restaurants like Frannys, Tacoway Beach, Hearth, and Michelin-starred Luksus. During growing season, Novak hosts a rooftop farm stand where she offers veggies for purchase and limited quanties of Awesome Sauce, a special hot sauce made from Novak’s own special blend of rooftop-grown chile peppers. Novak grows for taste first and foremost, but she also makes sure to use a mix of disease-resistent peppers she’s discovered in her travels. Once a month Novak hosts Volunteer Sundays, where New Yorkers can get their hands in the dirt by helping to plant seeds and harvest vegetables. Her new book, The Rooftop Growing Guide: How To Transform Your Roof into a Garden or Farm, helps others navigate the process of growing aboveground. 

 

Related: You'll Never Guess Where Deborah Madison Buys Her Produce

Haw River Ranch // Saxapahaw, North Carolina

Suzanne Nelson
Audra Mulkern

Suzanne Nelson is driven to give her animals a good life. In addition to a free-range, species-appropriate diet for her livestock—grass for her cows, forest foraging for her pigs—she sources organic feed with lots of natural proteins, like flax and field peas. Those proteins improve the taste and nutritional profile of her beef and pork products while reducing Nelson’s reliance on soy. Because organic feed is double the cost of conventional feed, Nelson’s products are more expensive, but they’re still in high demand. You can find her beef, pork, chicken, and eggs on menus throughout the Piedmont area, like at Saxapahaw’s five-star gas station (seriously), the Saxapahaw General Store, Sitti in nearby Raleigh, and occasionally Chapel Hill’s Lantern. You can also find her offerings at Raleigh’s STANDARD FOODS, where a farm liason on staff seeks out sustainable farmers like Nelson and gives them a place to showcase their incredible products.

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