Tierra to Table with Shakefork Community Farm
An interview with Shakefork Community Farm Founders, Kevin & Melanie Cunningham
By Dave Feral
When Kevin and Melanie aren’t living the dream on their farm, you can find them at farmer’s market, providing nourishing produce straight from the earth to your table that’s both organic and sustainable, with love to you!
Q. What inspired you to farm organically?
A. “Both Kevin and I were called to farming from an urban background. For us, to farm always meant to farm organically. We can’t imagine doing it any other way. In farming we found a long sought deeper connection to the sacred in the everyday and a more meaningful relationship to our food.”
Q. How many different crops do you grow in a given year?
A. “We grow four acres of grain – currently barley, which we sell whole and as stone-ground flour, oats for our livestock, and a hulless oat for us humans to eat; 6 acres of vegetables – pretty much every variety you can imagine for our CSA and markets; and 2 acres of clover hay. We have an additional 30-plus acres of pasture where we intensively manage our pastured broilers – up to 2,000 a year, layers, and a handful of steers, sheep, and sometimes pigs.”
Q. Of those crops what are the main ones bringing income to your farm?
A. Our strength as a farm is in our diversity, and everything we produce contributes to the farm as a whole. Vegetables are the big cash flow generators, though, and we specialize in storage crops like potatoes, onions, and winter squash. We also sell a good amount of roots and greens.
Q. Please share with our readers your daily routine at the peak of the season?
A. “June through October follow a very prescribed schedule. Monday and Tuesday morning are harvest days; Tuesday afternoon is Fortuna Market and CSA distributions; Wednesday is a free project day for things like planting, weeding, or chicken processing; Thursday we harvest again; Friday is Garberville Market and CSA distribution; Saturday Arcata market; Sunday we “rest.”
We have a 7:30 am “coffee meeting” with the crew every morning where we check in and talk about the day’s work. The milker is usually finishing up by then. Two people go out to move chicken tractors, as many as 4 to 6, and move the steers and sheep on to fresh pasture. Bella, our milk cow, gets moved daily as well. We start harvesting greens at 7:30 am. Lunch is at 12:30 pm. We take turns cooking feasts every work day and eat communally, mostly from food we grow for ourselves. Then it’s back to work by 2pm till the harvest is all in, washed, and packed. Melanie puts together CSA boxes sometime in the late afternoon. And we end the day with more chores – feeding the chickens (no move), collecting eggs and tending to the layers (involves a weekly move, at minimum), and milking again at 7 pm. In the early spring the days are a little less frantic but still full and busy. We start running broilers in February, so there are chicken tractors to move daily, milking to be done, and layers to tend to. We start a little later when the crew is gone – 8 or 9a and end by 5p usually. A typical day could entail a good long greenhouse session – sowing onions or early brassicas. Or if it’s been dry we’ll tend to the winter crops. We grow year round and have attended Arcata market every Saturday for 2 years running, including every winter Saturday.”
Q. What makes this life on the farm sustainable and livable?
A. Good food is the heart of our operation. We eat the best food on the planet and appreciate every meal. We love the work too – the physicality of it, the daily and seasonal rhythms, working outside. Farming is incredibly challenging, but the challenges are creatively and intellectually stimulating. We get tired, but we never get bored.
Q. This farm, like many other has a bit of a love story in it, please share with the readers how you two came together to live your dream.
A. “We first noticed each other at the Arcata Plaza Farmer’s Market, where Kevin sold for Warren Creek Farm and Melanie sold for Redwood Roots Farm. We cultivated a friendship for several years before becoming a couple. We shared a lot of good times at “Farmers’ Feasts” – potlucks some of us coastal farmhands organized for new farmers to share their successes and trials over shared food and drink. Our first kiss happened after a day spent slaughtering chickens with our friends at Wild Chick Farm.”
Q. What is your vision for your young farm in 20 years?
A. “Deepening our relationship with this 85 acres and perfecting the balance of livestock and plant life, cultivated ground and pasture, work and play to create a truly sustainable, fertility-independent farmstead. It is our goal to someday provide for other Humboldt County families the same nutrient-dense farm-based diet we enjoy ourselves. We are also exploring the use of draft animal power and see oxen as an essential part of our garden in the years to come.”
Kevin and Melanie Cunningham can be reached via their website at shakeforkcommunityfarm.com. The food they produce is available year-round at the Arcata Saturday Market, as well as through their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. Please contact the farmers for more details.