After several career changes, Christine and Seth Terramane started farming together about 10 years ago.
Prior to working together, Seth realized that his educational degrees weren’t sparking joy and he found a seasonal farm job. Christine had already started farming through a community farm.
“We had always been farming for other people, nonprofits or private farms, and decided we wanted to farm for ourselves,” said Christine.
In 2021, after looking all over New England for suitable farmland, the Terramanes fell in love with Vermont. When a farm came up for sale, they purchased the former small-scale dairy and maple farm with a plan to grow organic vegetables.
“It lapsed into a hayfield,” said Christine. “The previous farmer who managed the land didn’t use any fertilizer on the hay, just composted manure, but there’s still a transition period for organic.”
After purchasing the 51-acre property in Springfield, VT, Seth and Christine started using organic practices on Eureka Organic Farm. They plan to complete their organic certification this year.
During its first year, the Eureka’s CSA grew enough produce for 30 families as well as two farmers markets and a winter market. This year’s CSA will be expanded to include 40 shares.
When they moved to Vermont, the Terramanes had to adjust their growing schedule by one growing zone. “We know how to do season extension,” said Christine. “We’ve been doing that for a while. We had one high tunnel last year, and this year we plan to have three.”
Since the farm was purchased in January, for their first growing year, Seth and Christine prepared the ground for planting in spring. They use a plow, a disk, a harrow then a walk-behind tractor to create raised beds. Between tilling and harrowing, pelleted chicken manure and minerals are added.
Crops receive moisture via the irrigation type most suitable for the crop – lay flat, drip under plastic or overhead. Micro sprinklers are used for fine-seed crops. Christine credits the University of Vermont for their assistance in establishing irrigation.
This past autumn, the Terramanes had time to prepare some of the ground for the 2023 growing season. “We cleared the ground, then covered it with a tarp with the black side up and white side down,” said Christine. “The sun hits the tarp and warms the soil underneath. The weed seeds germinate then die because they don’t get any sunlight, and then we have a stale seedbed.”
Weed management is a major challenge in organic growing, so the Terramanes try to stay ahead of weeds to avoid hand weeding. Regular use of a wire hoe helps stay ahead of weeds.
With the last frost date around Memorial Day, the couple aims to start frost-sensitive plants early, timing them for outdoor planting. “We do succession plantings,” said Christine. “We try to harvest crops like cauliflower, broccoli, chard and kale throughout the season.”
High tunnels help extend the area’s short growing season. Right now, trays of started seeds fill one tunnel. “We planted celery first,” said Christine, adding that celery germinates in two weeks. “I planted peppers and tomatoes to make sure those will be on time. We also planted cauliflower, broccoli rabe, lettuce and spinach.”
Variety choices are influenced by several factors. “We focus on date of maturity,” said Christine. “For tomatoes, I select a mix of hybrids and heirlooms, but the heirlooms are susceptible to pests and diseases. We have a short growing season and I want to make sure we get a good selection of tomatoes or peppers. I love Brandywine tomatoes, but most are 80 or 85 days and I can’t wait for an 80-day tomato to make CSA and farmers market customer happy. If everyone else has tomatoes two weeks before us, our sales will drop. Last year we grew several 60-day tomatoes, so those were ready.”
Eureka Organics grows slicing tomatoes in a high tunnel; cherry tomatoes are field-grown. “We can manage the environment better in a tunnel,” said Christine. “Once we have been farming for several more years, we’ll focus more on disease and pest management. But for now, because we’re trying to break into markets, we focus on how early we can harvest.”
Last year, Christine planted a section of flowers and offered CSA members one bouquet each month for signing up by a certain date. “Flowers are a lot of work,” she said. “There’s a lot of dead heading and maintenance, and storage needs are particular. The demand for flowers is highest in spring, and that’s when a lot of perennials like peonies are coming on. If we would grow flowers, I’d want to grow spring flowers – that way I’d be finished with them in time to grow summer vegetables.”
As a certified herbalist, Christine enjoys growing basil, cilantro, parsley and dill for customers and hopes to add more herbs. She believes a lot of people consider it a luxury to use herbs for cooking. “We have a more difficult time selling perennial herbs such as sage, rosemary and thyme,” she said. “Many people don’t know how to use them in cooking.”
Although they haven’t incorporated cover crops yet, the Terramanes are working with NRCS to obtain information and possibly a grant for establishing cover crops. They’re also applying for grants for a high tunnel and a pollinator hedgerow.
Christine has found that the CSA members understand seasonal produce and are willing to accept abundant crops for several weeks in a row. “At farmers markets, everyone wants everything all the time,” she said. “We try to foster community among the CSA by teaching members how to use what they get in shares and encouraging them to interact with one another in a private Facebook group. We have newsletters and several events throughout the year, and at pick-up, the CSA members are friendly and casual.”
The CSA includes a free choice option to help manage the issue of members who prefer certain items over others. “We might have 15 different items and they can take any seven or 10,” said Christine. “They can choose what they want. Or I’ll let them know this is the last week for Swiss chard until the next planting is ready, so they know they should pick that up while they can.”
Christine has found that farmers markets have a unique atmosphere. “The Norwich Farmers Market is the oldest market in Vermont,” she said. “The shoppers there are very faithful. Some have been coming since the market’s inception. They’re all very savvy and they know what to ask for, and when things are ready.”
Despite being new at the market, which is in a college and tourist town, Eureka Organics has amassed a group of regular customers as well as a lot of browsers. “On college move-in weekend and graduation, many people at the market aren’t from around here,” said Christine. “We make some connections at farmers market. Being open and willing to chat is helpful.”
In their short time in Springfield, the Terramanes have found that people in Vermont love local food. “In rural areas, marketing organic food and trying to convince people of that is hard,” said Christine. “Growing food isn’t cheap, and there’s more labor with organic.”
by Sally Colby