I met Nicole Duch at her farm last August where we walked the potato fields and then followed up on a sunny February morning to get some pictures of the potatoes. It took me way too long to put this all together, but here is the interview and pictures. Thanks Nicole!
B (Ben): What’s your name?
N (Nicole): Nicole Duch.
B: What town do you live in?
N: East Calais, Vermont.
B: Are you a small farmer or an avid gardner?
N: Small farmer.
B: And the name of your farm?
N: Seedfolks Farm.
B: How did you decide on that name?
N: Every spring when you start the seeds that is really the start of your year and we thought it was a good way to capture the start of everything.
B: When and what got you into farming?
N: I went to Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont which has a small farm which has organic agriculture, homesteading, and farm classes. I worked on the college farm a little bit, but mostly I worked on other farms in the area. Meeting all the farmers, eating really good food, and being outside working - being tired at night - really got me hooked. I started writing a paper on community supported agriculture and I was hooked for real…forever and I knew I was going to be a farmer. I’ve been farming since then.
B: Tell me about your grandparents influence again.
N: When I was little in New Jersey my one Italian grandpa always grew tomatoes and basil in his garden and my other grandpa grew various vegetables. Some of earliest memories were picking carrots from the garden, rolling them in the grass, and eating them with a little bit of soil on them - my grandma standing on the back porch yelling to us that we better wash them and my grandpa telling her it was fine. God made dirt and dirt don’t hurt (laughs)! It felt a little bit naughty eating the carrot with soil on it - so it as pretty great! They usually had fresh tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and lots of things that we had for lunches and salads.
B: What do you enjoy about farming?
N: Being outside, even in the various weather, working with my body, growing plants. I like seeing the whole timeline of events. I like starting the seeds, I like watering them, planting them, weeding, harvesting, selling (laughs)! I’ve worked on some farms that understandably want you to have one or two jobs because it makes sense, it is more efficient that way, but for me I like to be involved in all aspects of it. Who wouldn’t want to be!
B: I think there is always more satisfaction when you start something and finish it - when you are just a cog in a machine of producing something you don’t (always) get that at the end of the day.
N: Right, and you don’t (necessarily) understand your part in the whole system. So running a small farm for me I get to see the whole cycle of things which I love.
B: Tell about the food you have picked.
N: Potatoes! First I chose lettuce, but I switched to potatoes. I chose lettuce (originally) because I love how lettuce fields look, they are very beautiful! It is really satisfying - it is easy to start lettuce seeds, it is easy to transplant it, looks beautiful, you don’t harvest the entire lettuce so there is always some organic matter retuning and even if some of the lettuce doesn’t look great they (can) just feed the soil and when we moved to our farm last spring (2013) lettuce was one of the only things that grew really great here so it was a symbol of hope that this could be a vegetable farm. But then I was hilling my potatoes Sunday and the plants looked so beautiful and I was thinking of all the ways I would eat the potatoes in the winter time all the different ways I would cook them and all the delicious meals that would I would have with those potatoes. There is a lot of nutrition in a pound of potatoes - I love growing greens and I love growing tomatoes, but potatoes really feed people. So that is why I chose potatoes and because potatoes store almost indefinitely so you can store them in a root cellar so you don’t need a refrigerator or walk in cooler. You can harvest potatoes and leave them out in a barn for a month - it just has to be a constant temperature and dark. So potatoes are pretty sustainable…maybe…is there anything that is truly sustainable? You can save them and plant them again.
B: How do you like to eat potatoes - what are some of your favorite recipes?
N: Well I love roasted potatoes - olive oil, maybe rosemary, garlic cloves - that's probably my favorite way, sea salt and I like to mix up the colors, but also baked potatoes with really good butter, mashed potatoes with good milk and butter and garlic - you have to add the garlic. Soups and stews - you could potatoes in anything, fry them - home fries, potato pancakes...
B: This is starting to sound really good! (laughs)
N: You can do oven fries, deep fries (I don't do that - I don't have the capability I guess). New potatoes I like boiled with butter or baked (and) mashed down with butter and sea salt. You never really get sick of potatoes - I don't, maybe others do! (laughs)
B: It is one of those foods that you can mix with other flavors...
N: Yeah, different herbs, spices, vegetables - what about a twice baked potato! Bake the potato, take it out, cut them in half, scoop the centers out, mix it with butter and cheese, put it back in and bake it, even some broccoli - that would be delicious, that is delicious!
B: That would be delicious tonight! (laughs)
N: You have got to have some time (and) that is why I like dreaming of all these things because roasting takes a lot of time and it is hot right now and (in the winter) I have time to prepare things. Even a crock pot with a really low simmering soup, starting it in the morning and then having it for lunch and dinner. And having a really big soup so you have it for a few days.
B: Soup usually tastes better the second day...
B: Anything else you'd like to say about potatoes or farming?
N: Well everybody gets their potatoes in so early - April people are planting potatoes - I like to wait and plant mine when it warms up a bit because I feel there isn't as much bug pressure or even disease pressure. They are solanaceous crops so they are really a warm season crops and when they are in an environment that they are meant to be in, that they like, they are not going to be as stressed so they aren't going to get as many pests or diseases. So the past few years I have started my potatoes almost mid-June, but I bet they will be healthier longer and the potatoes will still size up - they are happy. I like to keep my root crops in the ground until it gets really cold - even after a few light frosts because they tend to sweeten up and there are some varieties of potatoes, and you should definitely know this, that sweeten in storage, so growing those is really awesome and delicious. You squirrel those away until you've eaten most of the rest of your potatoes - finally one day, you are like you know what it is time for those Red Maria's and they are SO good. The sweetest potatoes you'll ever eat.
B: You might call them sweet potatoes! (kidding)
N: Almost! Sweet potatoes are a hot crop too!
B: What are the varieties that you have planted?
N: This year we have All Blue, they have blue skin and are blue all the way through. We have Corolla which is yellow skin and yellow center. I really like Golden and the taste is really good too. Different potatoes are good for different things so we tend to grow a wide variety - although we don't have as wide a variety as in the past. We don't have any fingerlings which is a little bit sad. Last year we grew this beautiful Magic Molly - purple and dark purple in the center - a brand new potato (Cornell breed it in a lab - BUT NOT GMO!), but it was a young potato so it didn't have many disease problems, that was really beautiful. Banana fingerling, but we don't have fingerlings - roasted fingerlings really good. If you are being really dramatic you can make mashed potatoes out of fingerlings and that's really good.
B: Mashed fingers!
N: Wait! Let me tell you - potatoes, at least on this scale, potatoes take up a lot of space and are sort of inefficient on a small scale, we have a small cultivating tractor and we have to take off the cultivating equipment and put on the discs - then we have to switch the cultivating stuff back on. Small farmers don't really make money on potatoes, but they are so nourishing and they are so important to the farmers diet and you want to feed your community. In the winter you want to feed people - you can't just feed people in the summer (laughs). So buy potatoes from small farmers so they'll grow more - if there is demand they'll want to grow more.
You can find Nicole and Seedfolks Farm at the Capital City Farmers Market in Montpelier and find out more at the links below.