By Trina Bianchi, Contributor
Editor’s note: In an effort to support local farmers the Charlotte Grange has volunteered to feature a new farm story each month in The Charlotte News. Here is part three of the series. Enjoy!
He came to Vermont to attend UVM, graduating with a political science degree. Now what? Dave Quickel knew he wanted to do something he could feel good about and something that would have a positive impact on his world. He tried various jobs and even considered studying environmental law. Karma intervened—the summer before law school started he worked on a farm—and farming clicked.
Initially, Dave worked at Bingham Brook Farm, then moved out west where he farmed on rented land, sold at a farmers market and started a small community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, then a new concept. On returning to Vermont, he brought the CSA idea with him. Jay and Marcia Vogler, owners of Bingham Brook, liked the idea; soon Dave was running that farm and launching a successful CSA here in Charlotte.
The dream was not yet fulfilled. He wanted his own farm and business, but the time wasn’t right. He left farming, moved to Massachusetts and began taking down old barns, salvaging what was reusable.
Karma was still working. A Charlotte group concerned about access to locally produced food contacted him. They asked what was preventing him from returning to Charlotte and farming. Easy answer: land and an affordable place to live. Bunky Bernstein and Carol Hanley had the housing covered. Dave researched how to appraise a farm for rental, reached an agreement with Jay and Marcia at Bingham Brook, and Stony Loam Farm was born, circa 2002. Quickel was back in the farming business, this time his own business, albeit on rented land.
Knowing he wanted his “own” farm, Dave started talking with Clark Hinsdale, who had purchased the Sheehan farm on Hinesburg Road. Good location, enough land, and Hinsdale was willing to work with Dave and the Charlotte Land Trust to conserve the land, making it affordable for Dave and his wife, Emma, to buy.
Stony Loam Farm, with a small sign sporting a carrot at the driveway to their home and CSA pickup location, has evolved since moving to its permanent location. Initially, all crops were field grown and hand planted, with the CSA and the Shelburne Farmers Market the major markets for the produce. Dave, with some help, did the daily planting and was totally dependent on the rain gods for watering those crops.
Today, the sign is still there, still sporting a carrot, and the CSA pickup is still in the same place. But the CSA is no longer the major outlet for the farm’s produce. As more CSAs formed and he hit a ceiling in the number of CSA memberships, Dave needed to develop a new market for the farm. Returning to the grocery stores where he wholesaled lettuce from Bingham Brook when he first farmed here, he learned that no one had filled that void in his absence. He began wholesaling lettuce again and also wholesales tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, colored peppers, zucchini and squash.
His focus at the Farmers Market changed as he watched more farms come to the market, all carrying the same products. He noticed that customers were looking for things to eat while they shopped. He made egg sandwiches with kale and cheese at home—why not try that at the market? At the time he raised chickens, so eggs were no problem, and he had plenty of kale, so this was an easy and successful transition. Stony Loam no longer has chickens but still attracts great karma, and eggs always seem to make their way to the farm in time for the Saturday market.
Today, ten or so acres of vegetables are grown at Stony Loam, including in seven greenhouses filled with peppers, tomatoes, kale and spinach. The farm has drip irrigation in all the greenhouses and irrigation for all the field crops, using water from a new drilled well.
Now Stony Loam has a machine transplanter, giving Dave the ability to plant four 500-foot beds of vegetables in two hours instead of four. And he does it sitting down instead of on his hands and knees.
Finally, Dave’s relationship with the farm has changed. He used to do everything alongside the folks working on the farm, showing them what he wanted done and explaining why. Now Neil Dominieki, who has been with Dave for seven years, has assumed that role, giving Dave the opportunity to be the planner and problem solver for the farm, a role he is enjoying.
Asked why he loves farming, Dave responded, “It’s a rush! It’s really fun; there are things you can control and things you can’t control, and you need to figure out how to take advantage of the little opportunities you have, go with the flow, with the challenges you face, and make all of that work, year after year.” To see Dave’s face when he says this, you know he is doing what he loves!