by Dale Bliss
Growing up with a garden, helping his father, Kevin, pick up rocks and trying to drive the tractor as a boy never left this Charlestown, RI, native. As soon as he graduated from high school, Matthew Thibodeau wanted to start his own hobby farm and did so with a single acre. He has now expanded to six acres in Saunderstown. Wanting to learn how to be more self-sufficient gave the young man a strong incentive to restart the family garden.
“As a kid I never had much interest in gardening or farming, but fresh out of high school I wanted to start the garden back up for our own use. I wanted to learn to be more self-sufficient,” the young farmer said.
His Pa, as Matthew calls his father, suggested he could grow extra produce and market it at the local farmers market on the weekends, like his father had done years ago. Matthew took the advice and “ran with it.” While growing up, Kevin raised cattle and New Zealand rabbits. His mother, Joy, came up with the name Luckyfoot for the ranch.
Matthew admitted that his first few years “were extraordinarily slow.” He said, “I had neither formal education in agriculture nor work experience in the field.” Years of trial and error and picking up tips and techniques along the way from friends and the community has helped make the farm what it is today, after 13 seasons.
Matthew’s main crops are lettuce, spinach, arugula, roots, beets, carrots and tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes are his main tomato variety. Watermelon, cantaloupe and husk cherries are grown as minor crops. The crops most economical for him are tomatoes and lettuce. He’s also added canned Luckyfoot Ranch salsa and makes home deliveries.
Major improvements have been made to the soil in order to increase its fertility. Cover crops are planted to keep off-season runoff at bay. Organic matter is also added. Compost made both in-house and bought is added to the beds and fields. These practices help to build up the soil faster.
“Also, converting a large segment of our production to no-till has helped to maintain soil health through the years,” Matthew said.
When asked what equipment is used, Matthew explained, “In the beginning the tractor was used in our growing methods, cultivated both mechanically and by hand.” However, their methods have become more “human-scale.” The tractor has been replaced with weeding sticks, the disk harrow with silage tarps and the single-use plastic mulch with multi-year landscape fabric.
Winter rye and vetch are Matthew’s mix of choice and they’re planted at the end of the season. They are quick growing. “It offers an unmatched amount of biomass to break down to organic matter to greatly increase the fertility of our fields,” Matthew said of the mix. Luckyfoot Ranch also uses oats and peas during winter. They’re not as plentiful with biomass as rye and vetch, but still contributes organic matter and hold the soil in place during off-season. “Its primary value is it will ‘winter-kill’ for those areas that are worked first during spring planting.”
During summer, sudangrass is another cover crop used. It offers “the best biomass” for the fallow areas for this time of year, Matthew said, with large growth and added strength to the soil.
Explaining some of his days, Matthew said, “You’re always wearing a different hat. One day you’re a farmer, the next you’re a carpenter, the next a plumber, next an engineer, an accountant, designer, salesman, chef, electrician, pipe fitter, you name it – always doing something different and learning new skills has to be one of my favorite aspects of farming.”
Selling mainly at farmers markets and by word of mouth is Matthew’s marketing strategy. “After 13 seasons we’ve gained quite a following at our markets, farm stand and our community supported agriculture,” he said. They also have a CSA.
Matthew employs an assistant farm manager that leads the team during the week and the markets during the weekend. The nursery manager takes care of the tomatoes and the washing and packing of vegetables. He also has three farm hands that help across the farm. Joy helps with the markets, deliveries and office chores. Kevin, while in Florida, still helps remotely with more office chores and general consulting.
As time and money permit, a commercial farm kitchen is to be added for processing farm fresh jams, jellies and other value-added products.
Luckyfoot Ranch is committed to producing the best, most flavorful and nutritious in-season vegetables. They attain this by following organic guidelines and dedicatedly implementing sustainable methods which help preserve the land and the resources they utilize every day.
For more information on Luckyfoot Ranch go to Luckyfootranch.com.