Producer Profile: Deep Rooted Farm
Tomatoes and spinach and bananas from Westby
|Jimmy Fackert and Tiffany Cade of Deep Rooted.|
“We have high expectations,” says Tiffany Cade, owner of Deep Rooted Farm. “It’s one thing to grow food, it’s another thing to grow high-quality, super-nutritious, beautiful food.”
Deep Rooted has supplied People’s Food Co-op of La Crosse since 2012. Tiffany grew up on a dairy farm in the Westby area. She studied environmental conservation in school, then worked in Chicago—managing distribution for a Wisconsin CSA farm. Along the way she spent time in a WWOOF program in New Zealand and did a stint in Cuba studying permaculture. Tiffany says she always knew farming was something she wanted to do. Her family knew it as well. “My father used to tell me: ‘You just wait, you’ll end up farming.’” Her partner, Jimmy Fackert, took a similarly indirect route to the farm. He studied art in school and is an accomplished glass-blower.
They’ve had good success with the farm, and business continues to grow. As they grow, expenses add up. Jimmy explains, “Being medium-sized is hard. We still do all our own deliveries. We’re still a hand-picked farm.” But the hours are long and they both still have to have off-farm work to make ends meet.
The weight of tomato dreams
To increase the resource flow so that they can expand, they’ve decided to diversify their crop mix. “Tomatoes are good,” Tiffany says, “but we’re realizing there should be another piece to it. And adding more specialty items makes the business more interesting. Last year we did 35,000 pounds of tomatoes. That’s absurd. All of them sold within 60 miles of the farm. I guess people must really like tomatoes around here.”
So in addition to the tomatoes, Deep Rooted now grows flowers, microgreens, herbs, spinach, and a variety of other vegetables.
They work with local produce managers at stores and restaurants to develop their market. “We can grow to order,” Jimmy says. “For instance, we’re growing cardoons (a type of thistle) this year for a La Crosse restaurant. We’ve tried artichokes.” Jimmy mentions a few other plants they’re trying out—or thinking about. Well, at least nobody’s asking you to grow mangos, I say.
“I tried to grow a mango,” Jimmy replies. “With enough organic matter you can grow anything. We’re growing figs, but not for sale.”
“There is a type of banana we could grow,” Tiffany notes.
“We’ve found our biggest limiting factor to be sunlight,” Jimmy says. Tropical plants can do well in the greenhouse, but they don’t produce a great amount of fruit.
“Our bananas were really tiny,” Jimmy says. “The size of my little finger.”
They have a curious balance of idealism and innovative thinking tempered by hard-earned lessons of material limitations. By way of illustration, Jimmy tells a story about greenhouse construction. Each greenhouse holds 800 plants. The plants weigh 30 to 40 pounds each (supported on trellises that are wired to the greenhouse walls). How much weight your greenhouse wall can hold will have a direct bearing on how many tomatoes you can grow at any one time, which in turn decides the farm’s income ceiling.
Jimmy also notes that he’d prefer to have glass walls in the greenhouses rather than plastic, but the return on a tomato crop barely covers the cost of the better quality plastic they use.
For the time being, tomatoes remain their mainstay. They harvest from late May until the second week in November. “We don’t heat the greenhouses in the fall,” Tiffany says. “Because of the light issue, the amount of produce wouldn’t justify the cost.”
They take a month or two off in the winter. December is time for planning and side work and then they’re back to seeding in January. “Really, I’d be tempted to take July and August off,” Tiffany says. “Everybody has their own garden tomatoes anyway and the markets are glutted. I’d rather go canoeing.”
Deep Rooted has four heated greenhouses and an unheated hoop house. That’s about 14,000 square feet of planting space. The greenhouses use compost-based containers and the hoop house is soil-planted.
They have two part-time employees and at the height of the harvest season they hire a crew of local high school kids to help with the hand-picking of tomatoes. Both Jimmy’s and Tiffany’s families help them out with harvest and planting.
Deep Rooted Farm is certified organic. They use no pesticides. They practice integrated pest management, bringing in beneficial insects when necessary and maintaining habitat to attract wasps that prey on pests. They also swear by Dr. Bronner’s for spot treatment of plants.
Fortunately, Tiffany and Jimmy don’t take July and August off. You can find their high-quality, super-nutritious, beautiful tomatoes in the store now. And you’re welcome to visit their farm in September for their Tasty Tomato Fest (see sidebar) on Labor Day weekend.
Deep Rooted Events
In the fall and spring, the farm has workshops and events open to the public. In the spring they host a planting workshop for people to create their own flower planters. Participants come to the farm and plant a variety of seeds. Deep Rooted minds the planters until the flowers bloom and the people can come back and pick up their baskets.
In the fall, on Labor Day weekend, Deep Rooted hosts the Tasty Tomato Fest. “We set up a tent with different varieties of tomatoes for tastings,” Tiffany says.
“We have a taco bar with salsas made with the different tomatoes,” says Jimmy.
“And everything except the tortillas is from within 60 miles of our farm,” Tiffany says. The Third Annual Tasty Tomato Festival will be held on Sunday, September 2 (Labor Day weekend). More information about the Fest can be found on their website: www.deeprootedorganics.com/events