Editor's Note: Once a month starting today, The Mining Journal's Living Green series will feature area farmers who grow and raise food naturally without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. We'll take a look at the seasonal chores farmers perform, follow their yearly cycle from planting to harvest and see how they're growing the green trend in the central U.P.
MARQUETTE - Jeff Hatfield bends down to pick a bundle of spinach growing in an unheated greenhouse in the middle of March. Outside patches of snow are still scattered across his 40-acre farm off Greenfield Road in Marquette County.
"We let it freeze all winter and now it resumes growth," he said, explaining how he can supply the Marquette Food Co-Op with naturally grown spinach in the early spring months.
It's an experiment that Hatfield and Jeff Chiodi, owners of Seeds and Spores farm, began in October when they planted the vegetable.
Located on old dairy farm property, Seeds and Spores has been around for more than 10 years. Starting out small, Hatfield and Chiodi began growing vegetables and mushrooms primarily for the co-op.
"I think it's just an extension of our lifestyle," Hatfield said about growing food naturally. "Our goal is to improve the soil rather than degrade it. We do that through organic soil amendments and letting the soil rest at times."
In the past, the farm was certified organic, paying about $2,000 annually for the certificate. With time, however, the farmers changed their minds about the certification.
"We just learned that we cultivated this relationship with consumers," Hatfield said, explaining that it seemed unnecessary to pay a third party a large amount of money for certification when customers often come to visit the farm in person and know Hatfield and Chiodi by name. "When you can go directly to the producer, I think that layer of certification is not necessary. We're customer certified."
March and April is the season of beginnings at the farm. The time is mostly spent planting seeds in the wood-stove-heated greenhouse and taking care of the offspring of the farm's chickens, Scottish highland cattle, sheep and pigs.
"We brood out our chicks," Chiodi said. "The sheep we have are starting to lamb. In the spring we have lots of young animals."
Once it gets warmer outside, Hatfield said, the chickens are put into a portable coop that they move every week to another spot on the farm, "so they get continually fresh grass."
The planting of pepper seeds began in early March, along with vegetable seeds such as chard, lettuce, kale, broccoli and herbs such as parsley and basil.
Since the growing season in the Upper Peninsula is brief, the two farmers organize their growing schedule so they're continually planting and harvesting.
With the exception of onions that have already been planted next to the "freeze-spinach" in the unheated greenhouse, "we don't put anything into the soil until late April," Chiodi said.
The farmers have also been growing and selling pea shoots and sunflower shoots indoors since the beginning of March - a nice addition to a salad, Hatfield said.
As far as their soil goes, Chiodi said, "we don't use any chemical fertilizers or pesticides that are synthetically made from petroleum products. Because we don't do that, we work to increase the soil fertility."
To that end, they use compost, natural minerals, rotational planting and move their portable greenhouses frequently.
"For us, we attempt to grow a diverse mix of things instead of 'mono-crop.'" Hatfield said. "It's just a re-creation of the old way of farming."
Seeds and Spores offers a subscription through a community supported agriculture program and also sells its produce at U.P. farmer's markets and the Marquette Food Co-op.
For more information, go to www.seedsandspores.com.