by Carol Cain. Photos Courtesy of Nooshe Joon Farm
Shabnam Allwood is originally from Northern Virginia, just outside Washington, DC. She spent time working in spa management as well as a government travel specialist before relocating to the Southern Finger Lakes region. Despite having no previous farming experience, she now runs a small urban farm, less than half of an acre in size, in the heart of Elmira called Nooshe Joon Farm. We caught with her to learn about her journey into farming.
Edible Finger Lakes: How did you get into farming?
Shabnam Allwood: “A little under five years ago I began to learn about and understand where my food was coming from; not just how it was grown/raised, but what other products/processes/tools were being utilized. I was not in agreement with a lot of what I was learning was standard practice and wanted to take control of the quality of the foods I was consuming by beginning to grow my own food at home organically while transitioning to a plant-based vegan lifestyle.
Amazed at the flavor and quality of the food I was growing for my own consumption and to share with family and friends, I felt the need to grow even more food to share with my community. My passion for and need to share this delicious produce, I believe, stems from my Iranian/Persian culture, which considers meals to be a very social activity; an abundance of foods meant to be shared with family and friends.
I actually unintentionally began learning to grow microgreens as well as sprouts as a young child, watching my mother and other women as they would grow their own wheatgrass (as well as other varieties) each spring to celebrate the spring equinox, also known as Persian New Year or Nowruz; the wheatgrass represents rebirth or fertility in the upcoming year. While I was in the process of changing my personal diet, I began to learn about the other microgreens varieties and became curious. The growing process is fairly quick and simple, they are incredibly beautiful, delicious and they are harvested when they have reached peak nutrient capacity.
I have a great community of local farmers that have been really invaluable to me as far as the advice and education I have received, the care and kindness I have been shown, the networking, as well as the great experiences I have had and wonderful friendships I have made.
EFL: What are some of the daily tasks involved this time of year in running Nooshe Joon Farm?
SA: This time of year is great because while the daily tasks increase, the scenery is everchanging and I’m watching everything come back to life and flourish all over again. I usually begin each day by checking on things, doing any watering that may be needed, harvesting, etc. There are almost always trays to be washed and readied for planting/use, as many varieties are harvested within 15 days of planting; the remaining contents of a tray post-harvest go directly to the beds for any younger seedlings to continue growing or added to the compost pile. In the springtime, there is also a lot of prep work before seedlings are transplanted or any direct sowing occurs. This week the tomatoes will be transplanted into the high tunnel, beds, and grow bags and the peppers will be transplanted to their respective beds/bags soon after. I have already begun harvesting greens and herbs this spring, so I plan to have the farm stand back out for the season very soon (It is in need of a little tlc).
EFL: Could you please describe the system you use with your live trays that make them functional and safe at busy restaurants?
SA: Live trays are microgreens trays that are delivered to the customer while still growing to be harvested/used as needed, resulting in the freshest product reaching the consumer. The trays are delivered as soon as they are ready for harvest, displayed for the customer to view, within a chef’s reach, or both. The microgreens are harvested by removing the stem from the root and as you would baby greens, but unlike sprouts which are consumed with the root still attached.
EFL: Is there an issue or experience related to micro-farming that is on the top of your mind right now?
SA: A few things on my mind recently that I’d like to work on include better methods to climate control, watering methods/processes for the microgreens, as well as rainwater collection and distribution for the rest of the plants. Finding better ways of utilizing existing space as well as improving upon existing practices to help make fresh produce more accessible to local consumers with minimal waste are also on my mind; I’d love to add CSA and delivery programs as things continue growing.
EFL: What are two or three things that you wish more people knew about running an urban farm?
I wish people knew that there could be so many more of us! Growing your own quality food is incredibly rewarding! Homesteading and urban farming have become more popular in recent years, especially during the pandemic, and for good reason; there is no reason for produce that can be grown and distributed locally to be shipped from over 1,000 miles away (the average distance produce travels is approximately 1500 miles). Growing your own microgreens may seem daunting to some, but maybe growing baby greens/lettuce may be a place to start. You can usually harvest about 3 times from a single lettuce plant and even regrow store-bought lettuce by placing the remaining stem in a shallow dish of water.
EFL: Could you please explain how you manage the work of running the farm as a solo farmer?
SA: As a solo farmer, there are absolutely days that I do need to ask for help to get everything done; however, I have a system in place that allows me to generally accomplish tasks on my own in a timely manner. I have a farm stand on site that I stock with fresh produce throughout the summer months, so my inventory going to the farmer’s market on Sundays is much more manageable. I am still learning not to take on too much at a time and focus on doing everything I currently am to the best of my ability before adding onto my plate; it’s incredibly tempting to take on a lot of extra plants/trays before the responsibility sets in.
EFL: What are some resolutions or priorities you may have for the farm in 2021?
SA: This year I’d love to work closely with the local food pantries to ensure that any unsold produce does not go to waste and is quickly distributed to the local community. I also would love to add to the growing space I currently have and increase the production of some varieties. Implementing a rainwater collection and distribution system would also be ideal to reduce the amount of traditional watering needed.
EFL: Where can people find your products/produce?
SA: I can be found at the Chamberlain Acres Farmers Market on Sundays from 11-3 in Elmira, NY. Grow Your Own Microgreens Kits are available for purchase at Chamberlain Acres Garden Center & Florist, Allen Homestead (Sayre, PA), as well as Mad Hatters Café and Co-Op (Athens, PA). The seasonal farm stand will be back out from mid-June until mid-October. Check Facebook and Instagram for updates on local specials using Nooshe Joon Farm microgreens and produce.