This week marks the one year anniversary of our first harvest from our aquaponics greenhouse at Bella Vita Farm. We want to thank each one of you who has purchased fresh lettuce and greens from us over this past year. Every order is special to us and reinforces the choice we have made to improve the food quality to our community by growing the freshest produce right here in Brookeville.
As Jeff will tell you we have had our share of ups and downs. Trying to make sure we balance the water chemistry in our 8,000 gallons of circulating ‘liquid gold’ between the plants and fish would bring any biologist to tears. One of the instructors, Tawnya Sawyer from the Aquaponics Source, told us you are not a true aquaponics farmer until you have killed at least a thousand fish. It takes time to get it right and the delicate balance between raising plants and keeping fish alive is a dance. Thankfully (and my fingers are crossed here) we have only lost a few fish mostly due to them jumping out of the 4-500 gallon fish tanks in order to see what is on the other side of the wall. The credit goes to Jeff Dowling and his persistence in finding the right balance and constantly making sure our fish and plants are thriving.
When we started growing we were sure we would learn a lot in this process. That would be an understatement. From water chemistry, to powdery mildew, to aphids and thrips we have seen it all. Not unlike any farmer who has to deal with various pests and bacteria, there is always a challenge to overcome. Our commitment from the start was we not use harmful herbicides and pesticides on our produce. We farm using organic practices to deal with the everyday challenges. We are also more restricted than usual organic practices since we can’t use anything that would potentially kill the fish. We have held true to those commitments and continue to do so.
On top of these stated challenges throw in a worldwide pandemic and one of the hottest summers on record this year to stress to the breaking point even the most confident farmer. Early this year we lost 50% of our restaurant business and had to pivot to contactless payment and deliveries. We had to innovate and build our new website complete with an ecommerce site (through a Canadian company called localine) where you are able to see and order all of our fresh produce and some we source from other farms to supplement our store.
So, a year later what are the results? Currently, and it grows daily, we have 130 people registered on localine and provide weekly door to door deliveries. In the next month we will be selling farm to table into our 6th restaurant. Thanks to Grillmarx, The Little Chickadee, CB Acai, Three Brothers and The Turn House for supporting our farm. In turn we ask your support of these local establishments when you need some delicious fresh food. Thanks also to Maryland Harvest, One Acre Farm and Pleasant Valley Farm for being great partners in this endeavor.
I will end where I started and say how grateful I am to each of you for your support. Some of the best moments of my day are when I hear the ring tone ‘She works hard for her money’. I have it set to play every time an order comes in through localine. It is a reminder that all that hard work really does pay off and reinforces my belief in our decision to purchase Bella Vita Farm 3 years ago and provide a place to grow fresh clean food for our community.
So, from ‘The Lettuce Lady’ we look forward to seeing you on the farm for some fresh greens, axe throwing or an event in the near future.