The Farm Crew, Part IV: Teri Sackmeister

Teri has been quietly making a big difference at Food Farm for more than 20 years now. She’s our very own Superwoman who makes all our deliveries and helps grow the veggies, too. Plus, she’s in charge of vegetable maintenance – yes, you read that right: vegetable maintenance!

Teri at home with Patsy and her garlic.

How did you make your way to the Food Farm?

I was working at Whole Foods Co-op, at the old location which is now Burrito Union, and I worked with John [Fisher-Merritt]. I was a front-end clerk, and I was going to UMD; it was my senior year, so I was asking around about different experiences for internships. I heard that John had had interns, so I asked him about it. I thought it would be a really fun experience, which seems pretty naïve of me looking back! I ended up working seven days a week as an intern, and I still worked at the Co-op on weekends. It was fun, but a lot of hard work, and I just fell in love with it. I became an employee the next year and have been for 20 years. I took some time off when my kids were really young, but I came back full time in 2016. Over the years, the work has expanded, so now I work almost year-round; throughout the winter I’m organizing winter deliveries and working with a winter crew. 

What are some of your early memories of working at Food Farm?

I remember the first CSA harvest days in 2002, which at the time were much smaller; we had less people. It was a little more chaotic. We didn’t have the system that we’ve developed over time. We’d have all the CSA boxes lined up on tables and would have to remember if we put the right amount of vegetables in each box. It’s more of an assembly line now.

My first year, it was really hot and dry, and we had army worms and the associated bugs, which is not a fond memory, but it’s a memory that stuck with me! I honestly thought every season would be like that first one, but I still came back, and it turned out that was the only time we had army worms. There were flies that somehow came along with the worms, and the flies would just cover us because they were attracted to the electrolytes in our sweat.

I also remember that John was such a great teacher; he would talk to me constantly throughout the season. Janaki and Ben [Fisher-Merritt] did work with me, too, but John and Dave really took me under their wings and were my teachers throughout that first season. They had the patience to teach me, because I didn’t know anything.

Speaking of Ben, you two had a bit of a farm romance, correct?

Yes, Ben and I started dating while I was an intern. I was living on the farm in an old camper, which actually was quite nice. Our official first date was probably at the Anchor Bar. We used to go on Wednesday nights as a crew, but then Ben and I went by ourselves as a date. We got engaged the next year, in 2003, and married in 2004, and I hired a catering service that used the Food Farm vegetables and Food Farm chickens for our wedding meal.

And your children are involved at the farm as well?

Yes; Brennan is 16, turning 17 soon; he’ll be a senior this year, and has helped on the farm for a few seasons now, mostly during CSA harvest days. He’s helped with harvesting and then helped me with the delivery. Mina is 12 and has also helped during CSA days. This past year she invited a friend to come over and help as well, so that’s been fun. Mina’s favorite thing is to do the chicken hugging, which happens in the spring and the fall. We just recently moved the chickens from their winter home to their summer home. We wait until it’s dark and they’re very calm; you can just pick them up off their roost and they stay calm. You can take more than one at a time, so you basically have to hug them to transport them to their final destination.

We live right across the road from the Food Farm now – we built our house in 2019-2020, so right during the beginning and the most intense part of the pandemic. It’s really nice to have such a short commute to work.

What is your current role at the farm?

A large part of my role is as the delivery person; I’ve been doing that since 2016, and it’s become a bigger role because we’ve expanded with both CSA members and with our retail partners. Janaki’s low-key talking about getting a bigger van because we may need it soon! During a busy season, the deliveries are about 60 percent of what I do. I deliver vegetables four days a week in the summer and two days a week in winter. I think it’s fun, because my job offers variety. When I’m on my delivery route, I get to talk to the people at the stores and restaurants, and sometimes I see our CSA members when I’m dropping off at our CSA sites. It’s fun to hear how much people love our vegetables and our farm.

The rest of the time I’m out in the field, or in the greenhouses, working along with the rest of the crew. I’m everywhere!

Do you have a favorite farm task or activity?

I have a lot of favorites, but at the beginning of the planting season, in March and April, I love going into the greenhouse and helping seed onions or Brassicas. It’s great after a long winter of vegetable maintenance and winter deliveries, to finally be out in the greenhouse where it’s warm and humid, and to be planting stuff again.

What is vegetable maintenance?

It’s looking after the vegetables in storage in the root cellar. This year we had to wash carrots multiple times throughout the winter; some that hadn’t been washed immediately after harvest in the fall, and later on we washed carrots that had started to sprout, to knock the sprouts off. I’m constantly looking at and going through the vegetables in storage to make sure conditions are right for storage and that they’re staying fresh.

What would you say is your farming superpower?

Most people would probably say I’m good at constantly lifting heavy things; I deliver our wholesale vegetables in 50-pound boxes. I do run into other delivery people on my routes, and they’re mostly guys, and a lot of them wear back braces; it’s physically hard work. It takes 3-4 hours to do a summer CSA delivery. I appreciated some time off to rest and recover this spring [after the root cellar was emptied].

Are there any aspects of farm work that you think would be surprising for our customers to learn? 

There’s a lot of record keeping, and it’s necessary so you know from one season to the next what’s been happening. We grow such a variety of veggies, and we need to know what was planted where and where we can plant in the future. For example, we need to leave some distance between where the Brassicas were last year and this year’s Brassica crops, because of disease and pests and crop rotation. It seems like such a miracle when stuff grows, but there’s so much planning and knowledge that goes into it, to make sure that things happen reliably.

What do you like to do when you’re not at the farm?

I just got an inflatable paddle board and I’m excited to try that out. I’ve done stand-up paddling before, but not with an inflatable one.

I also like to take our dog, Patsy, for walks; I like knitting; and I like gardening. People might ask, “Why would you want to garden when you work on a farm?” but I just like planting stuff, and I try different varieties in our garden. I always try to have a pollinator section, and a bed of garlic, because we love garlic, and in the third garden bed, we do miscellaneous stuff.  

What’s your current favorite vegetable? How do you like to cook/eat it?

Around this time of year, I love salad greens, and spinach is another seasonal favorite. I can’t wait to eat green stuff in general. I pretty much like everything. Before I started working at the farm, I didn’t have such an expansive palate, so working at the farm has really made me appreciate fresh vegetables much more. I used to hate green beans, and I hated parsnips, but now I love them. To see them growing and be able to harvest them, really gives you a love and appreciation for what you’re eating.

The Farm Crew, Part III: Jennifer Cartwright

Jennifer had been working at Food Farm for just three weeks when I conducted this interview, but she had already proved herself to be a valuable member of our team. She’s enthusiastic about learning each task and quick to master new skills.

How did you make your way to the Food Farm, and what’s your first memory of working here?

Before this, I was working in corporate America, which was not very interesting to me, and I was tired of waking up to do something that I wasn’t excited about. So, I figured if I could get paid to do something I loved, that would be ideal. And I love food, so working on a farm made sense.

On my first day here, Dave [Hanlon] walked me around to all the greenhouses and showed me everything that was going on, and it was such an exciting moment because I was already learning so much from him. He really took the time to explain things to me, and I appreciated it.

In your short time here, what has been your favorite farm task or activity?

Transplanting onions was one of my favorite things. It was smelly, but it was really cool to be planting something by hand and still using machinery; it was exciting to see how those two things can come together. The transplanter has two seats on it, and there’s shelves above each seat that hold the trays of plants, and there’s a set of wheels that make holes in the soil for the plants and fill them with water. The reason it’s smelly is because there’s fish emulsion added to the water tank, which helps get the plants off to a good start. And, it only takes three days after transplanting for your hands to stop smelling like fish!

What do you think is going to be your farming superpower? 

I love to learn about anything and everything, so it’s really hard for me to say no when asked to do something new or different. I think that could be a superpower, but it might also get me into trouble — sometimes in other jobs I ended up doing extra work!

Are there any aspects of farm work that you think would be surprising for our customers to learn?  

It’s surprising how much time and effort goes into growing each individual crop. I think a lot of people think you plant this seed in this field and you’re done. There’s so much pre-planning: which field will each crop go in, how will it be fertilized — Dave was explaining that they consider which nutrients are being taken out by each plant, and how do we counteract that. It takes a lot of time before the seed even hits the soil.

What do you like to do when you’re not at the farm?

I like to knit, and I really enjoy being outside, either by myself or with my husband and our dogs. We like hiking and biking. I enjoy gardening at home, too. I feel like my favorite things to grow are probably tomatoes, and the most exciting things to grow are tomatillos and peppers. Tomatoes are safe and you kind of know what to expect from them, but the others are more unpredictable.

What’s your favorite thing to cook?

One thing I’ve been trying to do is to find new and creative ways to reduce food waste. For example, I save my carrot peels to put into soup stock. When the stock is done, I dry the carrot peels and grind them up to add to smoothies. I really like to use all the parts of the plant. Another example is using the leaves of the broccoli plant instead of kale in salads and sandwiches. We use broccoli stems in place of water chestnuts sometimes in stir fries. It’s all edible!

The Farm Crew, Part II: Charlie Kratz

I’m not sure if Charlie’s positive energy helps the plants at Food Farm, but the crew definitely benefits from his good nature! I think it’s safe to say we’re all happy he’s back for a second season.

How long have you worked here, and how did you make your way to the Food Farm?

I’ve worked here a little over a year; I came to it through food. I was working as a cook and for a short time at Third Street Bakery. When Covid happened, I wanted to keep working with food but not work in a restaurant anymore. Working at Food Farm seemed like a good way to explore my love for food, but in a different way than cooking it.

What’s your first memory of working at Food Farm?

My first week of work, we did a lot of bin washing, which is washing and sanitizing all the CSA boxes and the plastic containers that we use for some of our wholesale customers. I also helped install the sink and the kitchen countertops in the new shop [where the crew has lunch and farm events take place]. I remember Dave [Hanlon] saying, “Now you’re farming,” and I learned that there’s a lot of work that’s not necessarily dealing with plants that goes into farming. I did get to do some seeding of something in the greenhouse that week, too, which was more like what I thought I’d be doing here.

Do you have a favorite farm task or activity?

I like the chicken chores a lot; I like to hang out with them. I feed and water the laying hens and keep their grit and calcium full. I collect the eggs and John [Fisher-Merritt] cleans them. The chickens are like little dinosaurs, in a way; I think they’re trippy! I do like the construction-y stuff that I do here, too. I have some background in it, and it’s nice to work with Janaki on stuff like that; he’s a good teacher.

What would you say is your farming superpower? 

Giving the plants good vibes; I like to say nice things to them and wish them well. I don’t know for sure that it helps, but it definitely can’t hurt.

Are there any aspects of farm work that you think would be surprising for our customers?  

Like I mentioned before, the number of odd jobs that happen on the farm to keep it going. One of the other things that really surprised me was the toughness of the plants. At first, I was afraid of hurting the plants; I was very gentle with them. Dave kind of explained to me, “They want to grow.” Learning about the resiliency of plants was surprising – not that you just throw them around, but it seems like when the plant is healthy, it’s tougher than I thought it would be.

What do you like to do when you’re not at the farm?

I like to play music and cook a lot. The band I’m in now is very indie music; very blended. I also do recording; I record bands and artists and do mixing and mastering. I enjoy that a lot as well. I have a studio set up in my parents’ garage right now; I’ve been doing that for six years. 

What sort of things do you like to cook?

Lately my favorite thing has been making stuff from the pantry. Instead of going out and finding a fancy ingredient, just using what the farm has and combining it with pantry staples, and finding something fun to do with what we have. Making broths – vegetable stock and meat stock – is something I’ve been excited about. We have a big tub in the freezer that we put peels and seeds and scraps in, and once it’s full, I’ll make a stock. I really enjoyed making Delicata squash stock last winter.

The Farm Crew, Part I: Jane

Throughout the season, you’ll hear about what the Food Farm crew has been busy doing. Most of you probably know Janaki and Annie, the farm’s owners, and their family, but we thought we’d also introduce you to the rest of the crew, before you start enjoying the fruits of their labors.

First up is Jane Marynik, who not only helps keep the farm running smoothly as our crew leader, but also has her own business and is mom to four kids!

How did you make your way to the Food Farm, and how long have you worked here?

This is my fifth season at Food Farm. I worked at UMD’s Land Lab for two seasons, but after I graduated from UMD, I couldn’t work there anymore. I was just looking to get more experience farming. I remember that when I interviewed with Janaki and Karin [White, Food Farm’s former crew leader] for the Food Farm job, my sister had just gotten married and she had made us get our nails done, so I was trying to hide my nails because I didn’t want them to think I was some prissy girl!

What’s your first memory of working at Food Farm?

My first day was seeding the fifth planting of Brassicas, which is an enormous planting. I spent the whole day looking down, and I wasn’t used to that, so my neck really hurt afterward. Everyone was pretty happy that I even came back after that experience.

What is your current role at the farm?

My role is crew wrangler, or crew leader. I get the list of tasks that need to be done from Janaki and plan out who’s going to do what, and I try to keep things organized and smoothly flowing. I take care of our people; if someone is having a physical issue, I try to give them tasks that work for them. I also try to make sure everyone is getting a good variety of tasks so they can learn more about what we’re doing.

Do you have a favorite farm task or activity?

I like being outside in general, and I like helping to grow food for people and helping take good care of the soil. It’s a meaningful job. For specific tasks I like weeding carrots and picking peas. Peas because we get to taste a few as we pick! Weeding I like because I don’t have to think about it too much; you can have good conversations with the other workers while you work.

What would you say is your farming superpower?

I’m good at harvesting broccoli. Normally I’m picking broccoli at least a couple of times a week. The last couple of years we’ve sometimes been harvesting from three different plantings at once, because they all matured at once, so for a while it felt like all I was doing at the farm was just picking broccoli.

The challenge with broccoli is deciding which heads to cut, and which ones will hold in the field until the next harvest. It depends on the weather, the heat, the moisture level, the varieties, etc., so you have to get a feel for it. We’re also watching out for disease–if I notice there’s disease starting in a certain area, I cut those heads right away before it spreads to another area. I’m also trying to judge how much broccoli is out there; if the heads are bigger, they fill up the containers faster, so I’m trying to figure that into the mix.

Are there any aspects of farm work that you think would be surprising/unexpected for our customers to learn? 

It’s surprising how many flat tires you get on a farm! And, sometimes what the plants look like while they’re growing in the field is surprising to people. People walking by my garden in Superior one time saw the garlic growing and thought it was corn.

I also think people would be surprised by how early plants go in–how early we start onions (early March); how early we start transplanting in the field (April or May); some of the hardy crops can go out well before the frost date. Also people don’t realize how long you can keep things in the ground, and how long we keep harvesting in the fall.

What do you like to do when you’re not at the farm?

I have my own business called Four Beans Farm; I’ve been doing that for three seasons; this will be my fourth. I grow dry beans, and small scale vegetables. I don’t do a lot of spring stuff, because I don’t have the greenhouse capacity, but I can’t wait to grow more things. I grow some of my crops here at Food Farm and I grow stuff in my gardens at home, and the soil’s different; the temperature’s different; it’s like two different worlds.

I also like to run, which isn’t very compatible with farming [because of the physical demands of vegetable farming], but I enjoy it. My family likes to go canoeing.

What’s your current favorite vegetable, or what veggie do you get most excited about eating?

I’m excited for the first greens of the season, and the first carrots–even though they’re not as good as the fall carrots, there’s just something about them. And snap peas; I eat just snap peas for lunch sometimes!