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!
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.