Matthew Glenn and Liz Martin run Muddy Fingers Farm in Hector, offering fresh and nutritious produce year-round thanks to six high tunnels. High tunnels are tall, plastic-covered structures that work like greenhouses to trap sunlight and allow growers to extend the growing season for certain crops (USDA). Muddy Fingers Farm has been certified organic for around three years. Matthew and Liz sell their produce grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers at farmer’s markets around the region and through a community-supported agriculture (CSA) harvest subscription program. Additionally, they recently started selling organic seeds. Learn more about the hard work and dedication Matthew and Liz put into running their farm, and their future goals and plans, by reading their responses to our Notes from the Farm Q&A!
Edible Finger Lakes: Could you please describe some of the daily tasks involved this time of year in running Muddy Fingers Farm?
March on a vegetable farm involves many fine hours mostly playing in the greenhouse. We are currently seeding into trays, potting things up into bigger trays, and thinning out trays that were seeded heavily by choosing the best plants (we start different crops in different ways). Even on a 35-degree day that’s sunny, it’s totally lovely in the greenhouse. We sometimes are just puttering in there even when there’s not lots to do.
We also are harvesting greens from the high tunnels for sales on the farm and to local restaurants and shops. Finishing up any lingering farm clean-up projects and machine maintenance. We just had a large load of composted chicken manure delivered. Once it’s dry enough, spreading it in the field will be a high priority.
EFL: Could you please describe the permanent bed system you use on your farm and how this prevents the need to plow, according to your website?
Because we have a heavy clay soil, our fields tend to stay wet longer in the spring than people who have a lighter textured soil. Our land all has a gentle slope as well so preventing erosion is important to us. These two factors started us on the path to permanent beds as well as it seeming more efficient to always spread compost, manure, mulch, and fertilizers in the same spot each year and then plant there over and over again. By keeping permanent sod strips between the beds we keep all the compaction of driving the tractor, the truck and the manure spreader in the same grassy strips every time and then we never drive where the plants get planted. We work to have minimal tillage of our soil so we subsoil and then rototill each bed lightly rather than plowing our whole field each year.
EFL: Could you please describe an issue or experience related to the farm that is on the top of your mind right now?
An issue that has been a constant concern from the start is how to get local, organic produce into the bellies of low income people. Our CSA customers have always been very generous in donating to our low-income CSA shares which allows anyone who qualifies for state or federal aid to get a half-price share that they can pay for weekly, and can pay for with food stamps. But we’ve struggled to attract low-income families to the program and are still trying to figure out how to let people know that a $10 CSA share is a great deal!
EFL: What are two or three things that you wish more people knew about running a farm?
Farming is a great way to live! It involves learning lots of new skills—carpentry, electrical, bookkeeping, marketing, advertising, communication with customers, animal husbandry, welding, plumbing, maintenance, creative problem solving, stress management, when to call something a lost cause, and more. I wish more people knew that farming is a fulfilling and viable way to make a living.
To be a farmer, you have to have a fairly high comfort level with imperfection. Almost never will you cross the last thing off a farm to do list, so learning to live in that discomfort and still make a happy life is really important.
EFL: Could you please explain how you split the work of running the farm and the importance of teamwork?
We are a two-person farm. We have a few CSA members as well as family members who help set up at markets and wash and harvest, but basically, all the planting, seeding, weeding, and cultivation is done by the two of us.
We’ve worked hard to develop really efficient systems and to prioritize things in ways that two people can get things done. We tend to divide work by who is more naturally at ease doing that type of work. Liz dislikes the loud noise of running the tractor, so Matthew does the majority of the tractor work. Matthew tends to not like to schmooze with people on a busy workday, so Liz tends to return calls or greet visitors.
EFL: What are some resolutions or priorities you may have for the farm in 2021?
Because of the surge of interest in people growing their own food, the demand for garden seed is very high right now. We’ve been growing a few seed crops for the last few years, but this year made the decision to stretch our seed production because it’s a skill set we have and it’s a way we can concretely contribute as we all make our way together through this global pandemic.
EFL: Where can people find your products/produce?
From June- October we can be found on Thursdays at the Corning Farmer’s Market (10-3), on Mondays at the Grove Park Farmer’s Market (3-6) in Elmira.
We sell at the Ithaca Farmer’s Market from about September to February on Saturdays (11-3)
and year-round on the farm Fridays noon-8pm.
EFL: What are some of the greatest rewards of running Muddy Fingers Farm?
It’s really great to be your own boss! We love to get to work outside. It’s really amazing to shape the landscape around us and to watch the tiny seeds (some of which we grew) grow into plants that then go out into the world and feed people in our communities.
To learn more visit muddyfingersfarm.blogspot.com/.