Farming Upwards

Small space proves fertile ground for a creative farmer

By Carla Dawejko
Photos by Chris Walters

Linwood Ford of Ford Farms has come a long way from his early gardening adventures in the early 1990s. He has progressed from tobacco to microgreens, and has done it all by downsizing from 22 acres of tillable soil to a 1½-acre plot next to his home in Savona.

He recently sold the produce stand on that leased land, took down the 50-foot-long high-tunnel greenhouse and started gardening in his own backyard. “There’s a lot going on in a small area,” he says. “I get just as much food here as I got on that 15-acre plot.”

He says one of the secrets to using a small space is “we grow stuff vertically as much as we can.” This summer his high-tunnel house had 52 cucumber plants growing out of two rain gutters that spanned just the length of about six feet. Those cucumbers ripened from the ground up. This fall he will be planting another 100 cucumber plants in the greenhouse along with 100 out in the open field. He says he doesn’t get mold and snails on these vertical plants and they are more tolerant to problems because the air can move through them.

Linwood also repurposes the same space. “I get two crops out of my soil.” Early in the season he plants a row each of broccoli and cauliflower along with nine rows of peas. The peas put nitrogen and potassium back into the soil.

This fall Ford Farms will be growing cucumbers, spaghetti squash, zucchini and pumpkins. Linwood says his honeynut squash are “small baby butternuts that are so sweet they will make your teeth hurt.” He works his garden right up until the ground freezes. Then he starts back up by the end of February. “Winter crops taste better than the summer crops,” he adds. “They’re sweeter.”

Linwood sells his produce to the Corning Farmers Market, which operates in Riverfront Centennial Park every Thursday. Other Steuben County farmers markets can be found in Bath on Wednesdays, in Hornell on Thursdays and Painted Post on Saturdays.

Linwood says his honeynut squash are “small baby butternuts that are so sweet they will make your teeth hurt.”

Persistence is what has gotten Linwood where he is today. He sold produce out of his small home garden back in 1991 and tried to find someone who would rent him some land. When he finally found some, it was in the floodplain and his first year got flooded out. The next year he had 20,000 tomato plants with a problem. He called Cornell Cooperative Extension and the agriculture agent gave him an application to help the plants. “Then things started to get better,” he said. “Cornell is a blessing if farmers will use them.”

Linwood started growing the microgreens this year. Microgreens are a 14-day crop popular at restaurants and in college towns. Linwood sells his to the Village Tavern in Hammondsport. It is an expensive project because the growing area needs to be climate-controlled and very clean. He says it requires a lot of babysitting since the plants need to be rotated and fed three times a day. He has created a space in a trailer that is maintained at 70° at all times.

Linwood enjoys monitoring his garden plants. He stops in the middle of the garden and says, “Listen…” After a few moments of silence, he adds, “How much closer to Heaven can I get?”

Carla Dawejko is a communications specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Steuben and Chemung Counties. She is the co-director of the Goldwing Road Riders Association Chapter PA-R and volunteers her graphic design abilities for several organizations. Carla lives in Sayre, Pennsylvania.

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