Homeschool Farm Project Evolves into Sustainable Business Enterprise for California Couple
August 2, 2012 | Hana Lurie
Laurie Thorpe, owner and creator of Tangleweed Farm in Tehachapi, CA, did not set out with the intention of turning her farm into a business enterprise. In fact, her agricultural endeavors began for the sole purpose of feeding her family organic, healthy food and instilling sustainable values in the lives of her children. However, her skill in and passion for growing and nurturing the land became so apparent that sharing the fruit of her harvest with others seemed only natural.
I recently spoke with Thorpe to find out about the story behind her farm, what motivated her to embrace sustainable farming practices, the challenges her farm faces, her future goals and more.
Q: What is the story of how your farm came to be?
Laurie Thorpe: It started as a homeschool project. We started planting vegetables for ourselves; then my daughter Abigail began liking flowers, so it grew into flowers. My husband taught my boys irrigation, fencing and infrastructure when they were young – he was a builder, so our first stand was built out of all recycled material. Then they went on to build the existing stand as well as the chicken coop and other things. But, primarily, it was for us and for selling a few berries – not necessarily to make an income. We also wanted healthy food, and we live in an area where that’s really hard to come by as far as organic.
Q: What do you grow on your farm?
Laurie Thorpe: We grow berries (strawberries, olallieberries and raspberries) and we’re known for our mixed lettuce greens – all kinds of greens that we grow, wash and bag. We grow heirloom tomatoes, summer squash, and most of your summer crops, but in a pretty small number. We grow a lot of flowers as well.
Q: When and why did you decide to embrace sustainable farming?
Laurie Thorpe: I grew up in an agricultural area down south that has lost a lost a lot of that to development and different things. But, growing up around a lot of food being grown, it just became part of me. I also really cared about the nutritional value of food for my family, so it was really for health reasons. Where we are here in Tehachapi is not like where we came from, where there were farmers markets and organic was an everyday word. Luckily, the more knowledge people have obtained from the media and elsewhere has helped me be a viable business as far as what I do. I just take care of the land and grow good, healthy food for my family.
Q: Are you organic certified?
Laurie Thorpe: No, I’m not. It’s really obvious that I am beyond organic. I welcome my customers to walk through the field and see what I do. My customers know, and I feel like it’s really not worth the time and cost involved for me. I don’t advertise as being organic generally, but I let people know that I am.
Q: Can you describe some unique, sustainable practices that you employ on your farm?
Laurie Thorpe: I cover crop and rotate my crops, and in the past I have brought in 100 percent organic manure, but I think I’m going to change over to green manure. That’s primarily what I do. I have chickens, and the manure goes back into the field.
Q: How does the farm make money?
Laurie Thorpe: The farm is our entire income, and we currently farm only two of our three-acre place. We don’t make a lot of money at it, honestly. Our family and friends show up to help, and my husband, my daughter and I [primarily] work on the farm. Our income is based on what we can grow. My husband does two farmers markets – one locally, and one an hour away at a winery. I don’t sell to any restaurants now. We have farm dinners every once in awhile where a chef will come in, use what I’m growing and prepare a meal. But other than that, we pretty much sell out of the farm – we have a stand and people come to us. We are open three days a week: Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 9 until 4 pm.
Q: What are some challenges that you face?
Laurie Thorpe: The biggest challenge this year has been weed control. We pull all of our weeds by hand, I don’t spray, and it’s been for whatever reason a pretty out of control year. That causes a lot of labor expense, no matter who is doing it. It’s very long days and a lot of hard work. My husband and I are older, so we’re showing it after a few years. Economically it’s rewarding at times, and we eat very well – I’m thankful for that. I still get a lot of joy out of growing things, but the days are long. Things aren’t always perfect, and weather conditions in Tehachapi have a lot to do with whether we have good crops or bad. We had really bad spring crops. Our temperatures drop really low, and then they shot up really high, which causes things to not germinate, or they’re at the germination stage and frozen.
Q: What are the future goals of your farm?
Laurie Thorpe: To find a couple that would want to take it over! The infrastructure is all there, and it is a beautiful little farm. But if that doesn’t happen, we are trying to figure out a way that it’s less labor intensive for us. We grow too many varieties right now, and that causes a lot of labor. So I think we would change it a bit and plant more perennial crops like our berries.
We’ve been very blessed over the years to be able to do what we do and to have taught our children a lot. None of them farm now – their degrees are all in different things, but they all love good food, and I feel like I’ve spread that through the community [as well]. I’m thankful for that. Children come to the farm and have grown up on the farm, so that gives me a lot of joy.