We had the pleasure of chatting with our new four-season farming specialist, Clara Coleman, daughter of renown farmer and author Eliot Coleman. We asked her about her farming experiences out west, her move back east and what it was like growing up as the daughter of Eliot Coleman. Read more!
Why did you decide to work with Rimol Greenhouse Systems?
I have known about Rimol Greenhouses ever since my father and Bob Rimol collaborated on the movable Rolling Thunder greenhouse model a number of years ago and then I met Bob in 2009 when I started a four-season farm in Colorado and I knew I wanted to use the Rolling Thunder greenhouse models on my farm. Bob Rimol was a pleasure to work with during that time – his dedication to customer service, quality and innovation are exemplary – so it seemed only natural that I would want to work with Bob and Rimol Greenhouses once I moved back east and found myself in a position to help inspire the next generation of four-season farmers.
Why did you decide to become a four season farming consultant?
After an overall amazing experience creating and operating a successful four-season in Colorado, I knew I wanted to raise my boys closer to my family back east so it was an obvious choice that if I wasn’t actively farming, I would dedicate my time to consulting on four-season farming techniques and share my expertise with other farms and companies seeking to enhance their farming methods. I had the wonderful opportunity to work with Wegmans Food Markets for a year in aiding their vision to successfully and sustainably grow year-round produce on their small farm in upstate New York. I am continuously in awe of the passionate interest and increased awareness of sustainably produced food and the commitment I see from both small and large players in the food movement to effect positive change in agriculture.
Growing up with a renowned organic farming pioneer, Eliot Coleman, what were some impressionable memories that made you value your father's work. If not, what ultimately inspired you to pursue farming?
I like to say I learned farming through osmosis since I was wholly immersed in the environment, my father never forced me to learn how to farm and he always exuded such passion and enthusiasm for farming that it was hard not to find the profession exciting and joyful, if not an enriching and meaningful way of life. One of my fondest memories is harvesting shell peas as a teenager with a summer crew of interns, all young and enthusiastic about farming but also not used to the tedious and long hours of very repetitive hard work. After our group completed harvesting row after row of peas in the unrelenting hot sun, my father, who upon noticing our weariness and knowing we had a long afternoon ahead of us of hand shelling the peas for winter freezing storage, decided to set us up in front of a TV and VCR to watch a favorite movie as we hand shelled peas, one pod at a time into stainless steel bowls, all the while joking and laughing and sharing silly stories. Certainly the work could be long and tedious at times but my father always had a creative way of making it fun and enjoyable and that lesson has never been forgotten and I carry it with me wherever I go.
Why should people consider "Small is better" model of farming philosophy?
My father and I both believe in our motto ‘Real Farming, Real Food’ – whereas my father tends to interpret ‘Real’ as the opposite of synthetic, artificial or chemical input farming and instead is based in the natural biological systems of agriculture, I also interpret another side of ‘Real’ to mean the authentic human connections and community which is created when we farm. The smaller model of farming enhances both of these interpretations of the word ‘Real’ because one is always actively involved in this dynamic process on a local level – both the actual farm work where one is caring for the land by observing the natural systems at play and also the human connections created within our family, the local community of other farmers and customers as well as the greater community of people from all walks of life dedicated and committed to sustainable food and farming.
Can you describe some previous experiences with your farm Divide Creek Farm. What were some of the produce you shipped and animals you raised? What are you most proud of about the experience?
Divide Creek Farm was located at 6,200 feet in elevation in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. I intensively farmed about 2-acres of vegetables using three 22’x48’ Rolling Thunder movable greenhouses. Since my focus was on four-season production and Colorado has a challenging growing environment, the Rolling Thunders were instrumental to the success of the operation. Using the benefits of the movable greenhouses, I became famous for my early heirloom tomatoes and cucumbers in the summer and my fresh candy carrots and hardy salad greens in the winter. I was committed to the concept of relationship marketing so I sold locally at both a summer and winter farmers market and occasionally to a progressive farm-to-table restaurant if extra product was available. In the process, I developed a loyal customer base who became an extended family to me. The farm was powered by a 25 kwh grid-tied solar system which rendered the farm carbon-neutral for five adults annually. I relied on internship help as well as the willing contribution of friends and neighbors in the community. One of the best innovations was the ‘Greenstream’ – a 1967 Airstream Caravel retrofitted as a walk-in-cooler and charged off of the farm solar system before being loaded with produce, driven to market and displayed as the self-sufficiently cooled market booth. I also was committed to education and giving back to my community by hosting elementary school groups, customer farm days, and dinner events. ‘Farming and Feeding of the Minds’ was a weekend event I conceptualized and hosted in 2010 to bring together the knowledge of my father and renowned livestock farmer Joel Salatin to inspire the community about sustainable farming. All in all, I am most proud of the positive impact my farm had on the surrounding community – both in enhancing local and sustainable food production and also in helping to inspire the local community, including other farmers, that four-season production was possible and also highly successful even in the harsh winter climate of Colorado.
What made you move back to the Northeast?
To be closer to my family, of course!! And I was born in Maine and spent a number of years of my childhood growing up in Maine so I have always had the desire to eventually move back.
What is ahead for you at Rimol Greenhouse Systems? What are you most excited about?
I am excited to work with Rimol Greenhouses to be both a resource for the company as well as for their customer base of farmers and gardening enthusiasts. I will be writing for the quarterly newsletter to provide tips and techniques and sharing my experiences with Rimol’s high quality products. I also see great potential in my role as an influential next generation farmer and how I can connect with this new generation of farmers and best help educate and inspire them about the benefits of movable greenhouses in particular, and more broadly, how I can provide creative ideas to help them realize their dream to farm sustainably.