Joanna Lelekacs started farming a month after her first date with Bill, an active farmer; a year later they were married. Now , while working other full time jobs, Bill and Joanna plant and harvest together in Efland on a few acres of land known as Dancing Pines Farm.
A visit to Dancing Pines makes it clear that farming isn’t just a weekend hobby to the Lelekacs: two ponds with irrigation systems water the large fields, fruit trees and berry bushes fill the spaces between, and two large hoop houses allow them to farm all winter. They even have their own tractor. While their jobs (at the Department of Agriculture and as a landscape architect) do seem outdoorsy, Bill still hopes to farm full time someday.
But their interest goes beyond the workday. Joanna shares with me the books on their bedside table: Backyard Market Gardening, How to Grow More Vegetables, Intro to Permaculture, The Winter Harvest Manual. Her favorite is a 1930’s memoir of a farm in Ohio, From My Experience by Louis Bromfield. Joanna relates to Bromfield, who resisted the growing use of pesticides and herbicides long before anyone had spoken out against them. Dancing Pines Farm has always been chemical-free.
Not being at the farm full time makes it harder for Bill and Joanna to manage their crops. They’ve learned to stagger planting, which enables staggered harvests to sell at Market, but they’re only able to sell to restaurants and co-ops when they have surplus. They’d like to be able to supply their wholesale accounts more regularly. And they sometimes fall behind in planting because the good weather doesn’t fall on the weekends when they’re home. They’d like to get a better routine down for planting cover crops, rotating crops, and building up the soil.
Joanna signed up for PLANT, People Learning Agriculture Now for Tomorrow. She’d heard about the county-run program through a fellow farmer and initially thought it was just for new farmers; but after seeing the list of workshops (like “Soils, Fertility, & Crop Rotations” and “Pests, Diseases, & Weeds”), she signed up. Joanna enjoyed hearing about the science behind farming and hearing other farmers’ experiences. She opted not to make a business plan or to use the land available to the class for planting at Breeze Farm, since she had her hands full with her own farm. But most importantly, her vague understanding of cover crops and soil science solidified into a well-rounded big picture, and when she has time, she’d like to make a multi-year crop rotation plan. She also learned about online resources for identifying insects and strategies for attracting beneficial ones. She “farmscaped” the ledge of earth next to the new hoop house with native black-eyed Susans and “vitex,” a shrub loved by pollinators.
Visit Dancing Pines Farm during the Piedmont Farm Tour to see a productive two-person farm, and learn all about how Bill and Joanna made it happen. Or visit the new PLANT farmers at Breeze Farm.
Visit online at www.dancingpinesfarm.com.