by Sally Colby
For the Good family, growing organically comes naturally. Jackie Good recounted the story of how her family’s farm in Macomb, MI, started.
“My grandpa Norman Campau bought the farm in 1945,” she said, adding that the initials RC in the farm name honor his legacy. “That was the year my dad was born. I have three siblings and we were all raised on the dairy farm.”
The cows were sold in 1997, but Jackie’s father had already been thinking ahead. “Dad certified the farm organic in 1996,” she said. “He had always been farming organically but wasn’t certified. Once he decided to sell the dairy cows, he decided to certify the ground for crop production and has maintained the farm as certified organic since 1996.”
Jackie went to Michigan State University to pursue a degree in crop and soil science. After graduation, she worked for the USDA as a soil conservationist. As her own family grew, she realized that she had always had access to fresh vegetables grown by her family. Jackie started gardening on the farm to grow food for her family and sold extra produce at farmers markets.
In 2003, she started a CSA for six families. She first grew popular favorites, then added more variety with Asian greens, colored radishes, herbs and edible flowers. Jackie realized that the “wow” factor that comes with unique vegetables such as black radishes drew customers’ attention, and realized the seemingly endless options.
The CSA grew, and today RC Organics offers 100 shares with several options for families of all sizes. “The family size is a full weekly share, and the half share is bi-weekly,” said Jackie. “The mini share allows customers to select items from the harvest list, and that’s been popular. It was the result of a request.”
With ample acreage, Jackie can maintain a schedule that allows her to keep vegetable groups separated, with a three- to four-year rotation between groups. However, with the unique challenges that come with every new growing season, Jackie is always prepared to adjust. “I usually plant winter squash in May,” she said. “Last year, I didn’t plant it until the end of June, but we had a great crop.”
Jackie starts many crops on heat mats under lights in her basement. Spinach, lettuce, cabbage and other brassicas thrive and get a good start inside. Most years, Jackie can transfer young plants outside in May. “Last year was so late, but it was one of the best and healthiest crop years,” she recalled.
As soon as temperatures stabilize and won’t drop below freezing, Jackie starts crops like spinach and lettuce in the greenhouse. “That’s usually in April,” she said. “Most seeds take about two weeks to germinate, then I can start taking plants outside. Tomatoes stay in the longest, but all the lettuces and brassicas will do fine outside.” For temperature-sensitive crops such as tomatoes and peppers, Jackie monitors soil temperatures to ensure such crops will thrive once outdoors.
Autumn-planted perennial rye serves as a cover crop. In spring, the crop is turned under prior to planting time. Outdoor crops are grown on raised beds formed by a Rain-Flow ridgemaker. “Sometimes I put clover or oats between the rows and mow it,” said Jackie. “It keeps the organic matter in the 3% to 5% range.”
Jackie’s husband Steve, an animal nutritionist, and two of their adult children help on the farm. In addition to vegetables, RC Organics grows organically certified hay on 30 acres. The hay is a grass mix that includes timothy and orchardgrass with festulolium, red clover and alsike. Hay is baled in large round bales and is fed to her son’s cattle.
Since tomatoes are a customer favorite, Jackie selects tried and true varieties she can rely on to perform well throughout the season. “Purple Cherokee is our favorite even though it cracks easily on the vine,” she said. “I plant that every year – it’s the one people rave about.” Potatoes are another customer favorite, and thrive in the farm’s sandy ground.
Jackie uses trap crops and plants flowers to attract beneficial insects. “Sweet alyssum and calendula bring pollinators and beneficials,” she said. “We have a lot of ladybugs and praying mantises.”
The RC Organic Farms website includes a list of crops grown and the number of weeks shareholders can expect to receive each crop. Jackie estimates the time and quantity of vegetables for each week based on a 10-year average. She said customers are sometimes unfamiliar with crops such as kohlrabi that’s part of the share for four weeks, but after learning more about how to prepare and eat it, they’re usually hooked. Another section of the website includes information on how to wash, store and prepare fresh greens.
Customers have options for CSA pickup, including directly from the farm several days each week. The farm website includes detailed information about the shares, how to choose which share is best and a convenient way to pay online. The first share is available in mid-June, and the season ends in mid-October. RC Organics also sells produce directly from the farm.
When the farm first offered CSA shares, Jackie provided numerous recipes. Now that nearly everyone has internet access, Jackie simply identifies vegetables so customers can do their own research to learn about unfamiliar offerings. “People may recognize kohlrabi from seeing it in the grocery store, but they don’t try it because they don’t know what to do with it,” she said. “Currants and gooseberries are also sometimes new to customers. Last year we had a bumper crop of berries, so we offered some U-pick currants.”
In keeping with their goal of sustainability, RC Organics installed a 19.8 kw solar array in 2011. Power is sold through a net marketing agreement, and Jackie said most months, they receive a credit rather than a bill. The solar array provides power for the home as well as heating and lighting for young crops.
Jackie said one of the main challenges of growing organically isn’t insects or disease – it’s the paperwork. However, she doesn’t mind the rigorous recordkeeping required because it helps her make crop decisions each year. Another challenge is deer damage to crops, so Jackie deters deer by planting the crops deer find most attractive close to home. Wet ground is also problematic, and Jackie said new tile drainage is on the to-do list for this season.
Visit the RC Organics on Facebook or at RCorganicfarms.com.